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West End News

Clare Shirley

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:
Dave & Amy Freeman

West End News: November 21

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Lutsen native, Ailee Larson, is having a great year on the Saint Catherine’s University cross country running team.  Ailee placed eighth out of approximately 300 runners in last week’s Central Region meet, qualifying her for a trip to the NCAA nationals.
The national meet is scheduled for Saturday, November 23rd, in Hanover, Indiana.  Action starts at 10 am, Lutsen time, and will be broadcast live on the NCAA website.  Just go to to find the webstream.
Ailee is a 2011 graduate of Cook County High School where she was valedictorian.  Her parents are Mike and Jana Larson, of Lutsen.  Ailee was a standout athlete in Cook County, but really caught fire running cross country in Chile, where she was an exchange student last year. 
Ailee is among the best cross country runners ever to compete for Saint Kate’s, located in St. Paul.  She has been named athlete of the week three times this year and has awarded all MIAC honors.  She is a Spanish major, a resident advisor and has been on the Dean’s List since she transferred to St Kate’s as a freshman.
Ailee is famous for running barefoot, which a rarity in collegiate cross country running.  Her mom, Jana says that it is fun listening to the spectators around her comment on Ailee’s lack of footwear during races.
Dave and Amy Freeman are also residents of Lutsen, although they are rarely home.  They run Wilderness Classroom, a non-profit that helps schools connect to wilderness through technology.  Dave and Amy take marathon wilderness trips and connect in real time with schools using satellite communications. 
Dave and Amy have recently been nominated by National Geographic to be their Adventurers of the Year.   They just complete their “North American Odyssey”, a 11,500 mile trip around North America by kayak, canoe, dog sled and hiking.  More than 85,000 students followed their progress and completed multi-disciplinary lesson plans that Dave and Amy provide over the Internet.
There are ten nominees for the National Geographic Award and the winner will be based on voting by the public.  You can vote once a day at  You don’t have to register, give up your email address or sign up for anything.  Just go to the site and vote for Dave and Amy!
You can always call WTIP for the website addresses that have been mentioned in this report.
Victus Farm, in Silver Bay, is now open to the public.  Victus Farm is the closed loop fish and fresh vegetable operation that you can see from the highway in the Silver Bay Industrial Park just east of the stoplight.
The innovative system collects rainwater to use for rearing tilapia, a delicious and popular species of fish.  The wastewater from the fish is used to raise a variety of vegetable crops in an aquaponic green house.  The water is then exposed to algae, which restores the oxygen before the water is returned to the fish.  The algae can be used to make fish food or can be processed into biofuel.
The fish and vegetables are now available for sale to the general public every Saturday from 10 am until 1 pm.  Eating fresh fish during the winter isn’t much of a novelty here in the north country, but having garden fresh vegetable the year around is a real treat.
According to an anonymous source, many area lakes are good for ice skating right now.  The source wishes to remain anonymous so his wife won’t know that he has been skipping work to drive around and check lake conditions.  She doesn’t like him to skate alone, which is actually a pretty valid concern.
He reports that most lakes west of the Sawbill Trail are at least 5” thick and sporting black ice that is “smooth as a baby’s bottom.”  Sawbill Lake and lakes to the east have a light dusting of snow, but are quite skate-able.
As always, you skate on what some people call “wild ice” at you own risk.  You should check ice depths for yourself, carry ice picks for self-rescue and have warm, dry clothes at hand in case you do fall through.
I also recommend that you not skate alone, although I highly recommend ditching out on work to go skating.  Good lake skating is such a rare thrill that it should be seen as a universal holiday.  So, take the day off and go skate some wild ice!

Singer/songwriter Martha Scanlon

West End News: November 14

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The annual lutefisk and ham dinner at Zoar Lutheran Church is in the record books for another year.  Chef Gary Hansen reported a successful event with attendance at about 130 people and 100 pounds of lutefisk consumed.  Gary had 175 pounds on hand, just in case, so if you’re looking for some lutefisk, give Gary a call.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned good-natured complaints by the students at Birch Grove School about a certain lingering odor after the lutefisk dinner in the past.  Mel Lingwall, who taught at Birch Grove for many, many years, emailed me after he heard the story. 
Mel wrote that years ago he arrived at school early one morning and was alarmed by the strong smell of burning rubber.  He couldn’t see anything burning, but he immediately called Jim Schliep, who was in charge of maintenance at the time.  Jim hurried to the school where he and Mel spent the better part of an hour inspecting all the mechanical systems and searching for the source of the awful smell.  Only after they had inspected the entire school did they realize that the lutefisk was the source of the odor.
According to Gary Hansen, an acknowledged lutefisk expert, modern lutefisk doesn’t smell bad.  I can only guess that the lutefisk production process has somehow changed, or perhaps Gary has damaged his sense of smell during his long career as a lutefisk chef.
There is a lot going on in the West End on Friday, Nov. 22.  The Commercial Fishing Museum’s Storytelling event is happening at Lutsen Resort.  This popular event is now sold out, but if you didn’t get a ticket, you have two other choices for the evening.
Papa Charlie’s at Lutsen Mountains is hosting the annual benefit for Birch Grove School, featuring a lasagna dinner, silent auction and live music.  Tickets are available at the door.
As if that isn’t enough for one night, there will be a fabulous house concert, featuring singer/songwriters Martha Scanlan and Amy Helm at the Cascade Loft Concert Series on the Cascade Beach Road between Lutsen and Grand Marais.
Both of these talented women have too many accomplishments to list here, but you may remember Scanlan’s songs from the hit movie “Cold Mountain.”  Amy Helm is American roots music royalty, because she is the daughter of Levon Helm, drummer for The Band. 
The Cascade Loft Concerts do not sell tickets in advance, but you must RSVP to save yourself a spot.  All you have to do is email to reserve a seat, get the address and learn the super secret handshake.  Doors open at 7 p.m. and the music starts at 7:45.
I was saddened to hear of Lloyd Scherer’s death at the age of 94.  Lloyd was a long-time Lutsen and Grand Marais resident.  I first met him when he had the contract with the Forest Service to pick up garbage at the Sawbill Lake campground, back in the early ‘60s. 
Lloyd was a gentle soul and a bit of a renaissance man.  Although he was best known for his beautiful artwork, Lloyd was also deeply knowledgeable about the natural world.  On my last hike with Lloyd, he was well into his 80s and I could barely keep up with both his hiking pace and his stream of observations on the complexity of the ecosystem that we were passing through.  Lloyd will be missed by his family, friends and the whole community.
Julie’s Variety and True Value Hardware Store in Silver Bay will be hosting Ladies’ Night on Monday, Nov. 25, starting at 6:30 p.m.  This fun event includes hors d’oeuvres, demonstrations, door prizes, discounts and a chance to knock off a bunch of holiday shopping in one fell swoop.  If you’ve been to Julie’s, you know it is much more than just a hardware store.  Space is limited, so call (218) 226-3803 to reserve a spot.
Ladies’ night at the hardware store reminds me of a story that Meg Tofte told me a long time ago.  At the time, Meg and her husband, Greg Tofte, had been married for 10 or 15 years.  Most people know that Greg is well-respected home building contractor and a Tofte native.  A few weeks before her birthday that year, Meg gently asked Greg if he would please, for once, not buy her birthday present at the hardware store.  They are still happily married, so I’m guessing that Greg took the hint.

Sawtooth Mountain Clinic

West End News: November 7

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The Schroeder Historical Society is holding its annual Holiday Bazaar Saturday, Nov. 23, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder.  Once again this year, there will be drawing for a beautiful handmade quilt.  The drawing will be held at 2 p.m.  Call 663-7706 or e-mail if you need more information.
I am pleased with the news that the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais has added a staff person to help Cook County residents get enrolled in MNSure, which is the new online health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Health Care Act.  Rachelle Christianson is scheduling information sessions around the county.  She plans to have a couple of sessions in the West End, so watch for information about when and where as it becomes available. 
The MNSure exchange is for people who either don’t have health insurance or are underinsured.  If you get health insurance through your work, or if you are on Medicare, you don’t have to be concerned with MNSure.  Judging from her interview here on WTIP, Rachelle seems to have a very firm grasp on the details of MNSure and will be able to give you clear and helpful advice.  If you don’t want to wait for the public information sessions, you can contact her directly at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic at 387-2330.
I’ve been very annoyed by the irrational and inaccurate misinformation campaign surrounding the Affordable Health Care Act, which is sometimes called Obamacare.  I can’t even begin to list all the nonsense that has been said about the Act, because it would take too long. 
From my perspective, Obamacare will be very useful to my family and small business.  We have been among the underinsured population for many years.  As an independent small business, we’ve been forced to buy our insurance on the open market as individuals.  In order to keep the expense within our means we’ve had to carry disaster insurance featuring very high deductibles, large co-payments and scary exclusions for expensive illnesses.  On top of that, many insurance companies have made it a standard practice to drop people from coverage on some flimsy pretext if they actually became sick, to avoid having to pay the claim.
In other words, we’ve been paying a small fortune for insurance that didn’t really protect us and might not cover us at all.  Even if our insurance worked as advertised, the reality was that if two members of our family became seriously ill at the same time, we could lose our home and business to bankruptcy – just for being unlucky.
The Affordable Health Care Act is a big step toward making sure that all Americans are treated fairly by their health insurance.  You can no longer be denied insurance for having a pre-existing condition.  You no longer can be dropped from your insurance just because you get sick.  All health insurance policies are now required to offer solid, across the board basic care without requiring you to lose your life’s savings if you get seriously ill or injured.
That said, I believe the Affordable Health Care Act is a flawed solution to how health care is paid for in America.  All you have to do is look around the world to see that a single payer system of health care is the way to go.  It is simpler, far more efficient and would improve the overall health of Americans. 
There is no perfect system for something as complicated as health care, but we can do much better.  A logical, well-run, single payer health insurance system could allow full choice of which doctor you see, make the paperwork much simpler, help hold down costs and let business unleash its entrepreneurial spirit.
In my opinion, we should give Obamacare a chance, but it’s not too early to be thinking about the next step forward.
At this writing, Sawbill Lake is still completely free of ice, but I don’t think that will last much longer.  All the leaves and needles are down now and the woods have that dark, austere November look.  Every time the wind switches to the north, I can practically smell the snow and ice creeping inexorably nearer and nearer.


West End News: October 31

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There is a lot happening in the West End in the month of November.
First, couple of quick reminders: 
Senior Lunch at Birch Grove is always a good time and the next one is Wednesday, Nov. 6 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  All are welcome, but give a call to Birch Grove if you are attending for the first time, so they can plan enough food.
The Bloodmobile will be at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte Tuesday, Nov. 12 from 2:30 to 6 p.m. Contact veteran blood drive coordinator Julie Rannetsberger at 663-7111 to schedule a time.
A couple of other big events are coming to the West End:
 The umpteenth annual Zoar Lutheran Church Lutefisk and Ham dinner will be Saturday, Nov. 9 at the Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte.  This church dinner has its roots firmly planted in the old country.  Eating the lutefisk is optional, but lutefisk connoisseurs tell me that it’s quite delicious, as lutefisk goes.  It helps to use a lot of melted butter. 
When my kids were students at Birch Grove they used to complain somewhat bitterly about the smell that lingered in the building for a few days after the dinner.
Tickets are available at the door and all are welcome.
The annual Birch Grove Community School lasagna dinner at Papa Charlie’s at Lutsen Mountains is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 22.  This is another longstanding event in the West End social scene.  Chef Chris Nies prepares the meal. The local food service suppliers donate all the food. The waiters are staff and volunteers from Birch Grove School, virtually all the money raised goes to the school and a good time is had by all.
The event also includes a very attractive silent auction and a fun dance to the music of the talented West End band, D’Merritt. 
Last year, the food sold out early, so more food is being planned this year so everyone can eat.  Take-out dinners are available this year, so if you are too busy to sit down, you can still support the school. 
If you have questions, or a silent auction item that you would like to donate, contact Diane at 663-0170.
I’ve been watching the Minneapolis mayor’s election with great interest.  Minneapolis is among a growing list of governments that are using ranked choice voting for their elections.
Ranked choice voting works like this: 
Anyone who is eligible and pays the fee can run for mayor. There is no primary election. All the candidates run in just one general election. When you get your ballot, you rank the candidates in the order that you prefer them. 
The ballots are counted and if one of the candidates gets more than half the votes, then they are declared the winner and become mayor. If that doesn’t happen, then the candidate with the least votes is dropped from the election. The eliminated candidate’s ballots are recounted and the votes are reallocated to the next choice on each ballot.  This continues until a winner is determined.
If you’ve ever held your nose and voted for the least worse of two candidates on a ballot, you can see the advantage of ranked choice voting immediately.  You can vote for whom you like, but indicate whom you can live with at the same time.
I personally like how ranked choice voting virtually eliminates negative campaigning and personal attacks.  If you attack one of your opponents, their supporters are highly unlikely to make you their second choice.  With personal attacks taken out of the equation, campaigns are forced to concentrate on the issues make their case for why they are the best person for the job. What a concept!
Ranked choice voting, in my opinion, is the way all our elections should be conducted.  It’s fair, gives voters a real choice and eliminates many of the most annoying aspects of our current system.
If we combined ranked choice voting with strict campaign finance rules and a set amount of time for campaigning, we would have more accountable and efficient government at every level. A guy can dream, can’t he?
As I speak, Sawbill Lake is skimmed over with ice in the bays and protected areas.  I don’t think this is the final freeze-up though, as warmer temperatures and rain are in the forecast.  As always at this time of year, I have my fingers crossed for smooth ice that is safe for ice-skating.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News. 


Happy people:  details below

West End News: October 24

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The annual story telling dinner at Lutsen Resort, sponsored by the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum, is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 22 at 6 p.m.  
The storytellers this year are Clint Maxwell, commercial fisherman from Beaver Bay, and author and historian Tim Cochrane from Grand Marais.
Clint is a life-long Lake Superior commercial fisherman and is known for his lively conversation style and great sense of humor.  He has many stories of his own and also knows a lot of the old stories.
Tim Cochrane is the superintendent of the Grand Portage National Monument, holds a Ph.D. in history and is the author of several books on local history.  Tim is also a terrific storyteller and possesses a wonderful dry sense of humor.
The storytelling event is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the fishing museum, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.  Reservations can be made by calling Lutsen Resort directly at 663-7212.  This is a very popular event, so reserve early.
Arrowhead Electric’s annual customer appreciation barbeque was held last week.  Interim manager Joe Buttweiler said that they usually have about 30 people at the event, but this year they had over 300 people, following the news that the new, fiber optic broadband Internet service was up and running at the Arrowhead headquarters.  Joe said they briefly ran out of food, ran out of parking and caused a minor traffic jam on Highway 61.
Interest is running very high in the broadband Internet service.  Joe said that home hookups in the West End should start this winter, probably after the holidays.  Like any other large construction project, it seems like it will never be done.  But, once it’s up and running, we’ll forget about all that and it will seem like we’ve always had it.
For now, you can stop by Arrowhead Electric in Lutsen to try out broadband on two desktop computers in their lobby, or connect your own device by wifi.
The 23rd annual Bluegrass Masters weekend is coming up at Lutsen Resort starting Friday, Nov. 1, and running through Sunday, Nov. 3. 
This amazing event seems to run under the radar of most local folks, but I highly recommend stopping by to check it out.  This year, Grammy-winning fiddler Jim Van Cleve and a few of his friends will be teaching workshops, jamming all weekend, and presenting a concert in the ballroom on Saturday night.  Van Cleve is one of America’s most respected fiddlers and has recorded with the likes of Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and the list goes on.
What the weekend is really about, though, is the gathering of amateur and professional bluegrass musicians from all around the midwestern U.S. and Canada.  From Friday through Sunday, at all hours of the day and night, Lutsen Resort is alive with music as musicians gather in the lobby, conference rooms and hallways in lively jam sessions.  If you stop by Lutsen Resort, you can wander from jam to jam enjoying an incredibly high level of musicianship.  Listening is always free and I guarantee that you’ll be surprised how these folks can improvise great music at the drop of a hat.
If you are a musician, you can sign up for one of the many formal workshops, or you can learn from all the music going on around you.  Even the famous performers join in the jamming and everyone is very friendly about sharing their knowledge. 
It’s amazing that this world-class musical event happens every year right under our noses and most West Enders have no idea.
My daughter, Clare Hansen, had an amazing coincidence this week.  Clare is in graduate school at the University of Montana in Missoula.  For some reason, she is going to be driving a university van soon, so she was required to take the official state of Montana three-hour defensive driving course.
She arrived at the class and picked up the instruction booklet from the table by the door.  The instructor began the class by asking the participants to think about the five people in their lives that they love the most and pretend that those five people are in the vehicle every time they drive.  He asked them to open their booklets and write down the names of their five loved ones. 
Clare flipped open the book and was astounded to see a picture of herself, her mom and four Sawbill crewmembers from the 2007 season.  Her first thought was that the instructor had somehow managed to personalize the booklet for each student.  At that moment, the instructor turned on his PowerPoint projector and there was the same picture – splashed across the screen at the front of the room.
At the first break, Clare approached the instructor and told him that the picture was of her, her mother and four very close friends.  He was surprised and a bit flustered.  He said that he had authored the booklet several years ago and had searched for “happy people” in Google images to find the picture, which came from the Sawbill website.
Several of the students, including Clare, are law students, so the fact that the picture is copyrighted came up pretty quickly.  The instructor immediately, and a little guiltily, asked for permission to use the picture.  Clare granted the permission because she knew it would make a good story and she’s glad that her image comes up when you Google “happy people” on the Internet.

{photo from Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, Inc. - Used by permission}

Happy people: (l-r) Pat Nash, Cindy Hansen, Lida Casper, Johnny Herman-Anderson, Clare Hansen, Pat Hughes.  
The picture was taken because each piggy back pair shares a birthday.

Tofte’s Noah Horak on the Baikal-Amur Mainline, somewhere in Siberia.

West End News: October 17

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West End teens have a great opportunity coming up at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland.    A weekly class called “Cooking Matters” will be available starting Friday, Nov. 1 from 1 to 3 p.m. 
Local chefs Nancy Olson and Marc Smith will start each class with a cooking demonstration, which will be followed by hands-on cooking by the participants. At the end of each class the student chefs will be sent home with all of the ingredients for the demonstration meal so they can prepare it for their own family.
“Cooking Matters” is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Finland Community and the University of Minnesota Extension Service.  The course is open to people from 13 to 18 years old.  It’s limited to 15 participants and is expected to fill up, so call the Clair Nelson Community Center quickly to register.  The contact person is Marc Smith at 218-253-0300.  You can always contact WTIP for full information.
Take it from a guy who never progressed much beyond Kraft macaroni and cheese; learning to cook well is the best favor you can do for yourself and your loved ones as you go through life.
Another West End blood drive is on the horizon.  The Bloodmobile will be at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte Nov. 12 from 2:30 until 6 p.m.  Contact Julie Rannetsberger at 663-7111 to schedule a time.
It’s fun to have Julie back organizing the blood drive. She did it for many years before putting it in the capable hands of Polly Erickson.  I don’t know if the baton is being passed back to Julie, or if she’s just filling in this time.  Stay tuned for more details next week.
The North Shore Stewardship Association at Sugarloaf Cove in Schroeder has a couple of interesting events coming up.
“Bats In Peril” is the title of a program scheduled for Friday, Oct. 25.  Tettegouche State Park naturalist Amy Funk will talk about the recent discovery of the “white nose fungus” in Minnesota.  This is the fungus that has decimated bat populations in the eastern United States.  Amy will talk about what this means for the future of Minnesota’s bats.  The program is free and starts at 7 p.m. 
Sugarloaf will also be holding their annual “Sugarloaf in the Cities” event Sunday, Nov. 3 from 5-8 pm.  This is the 11th year that Sugarloaf has held this important fundraising event in the Twin Cities, for the convenience of their members who live in the metro.
This year’s speaker will be Dr. Jay Austin, a renowned researcher of climate change in the Lake Superior region.  This is a great event for anyone who loves the North Shore.  Not only will it be an interesting lecture, but it also includes a light supper, a live auction and time for conversation with other fans of the North Shore.  This is Sugarloaf’s biggest fundraiser of the year.  Google Sugarloaf Nature Center, email or call 218-525-0001 for details and registration.
West End native Noah Horak is continuing his epic around-the-world adventure motorcycle trip.  Noah is a native of Tofte and the son of Jan and Kathy Horak.  He’s been riding his specially equipped off-road motorcycle for about a year and half around the U.S., Europe, North Africa, twice around the Asian continent and is now in Japan.
Noah completed the BAM route in Russia during August and September.  BAM is short for the Baikal-Amur Mainline.  It is a road across all of Siberia that was essentially abandoned after many years of construction starting in the ‘70s.  Much of it is now a single lane dirt track with rickety or non-existent bridges through some of the most remote parts of the earth.  It is considered by many to be the ultimate in adventure motorcycling.
Noah is keeping a detailed and colorful blog of all his adventures, which is fascinating to read.  If you type “Around the world with Noah” into your search engine, his blog will be the top hit.
Noah plans to keep riding for at least another year and a half, heading for Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.  He’ll finish up with a tour of every country in South America before a quick ride home via Central America and Mexico.
I have to admit to being extremely jealous of Noah.  There is no question that he will return to Tofte as a man who has literally seen the world.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

{photo courtesy of Noah Horak}

The Land of Dreams

West End News: October 10

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A new program at the Birch Grove Community Center is starting up this week.  “Second Sunday Fundays” is just what it sounds like, fun activities for people of all ages from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month, starting Oct. 13.  The fun will include open gym, cards, games, and will wind up with a pizza from the hearth oven.   As always, cheese, sauce and dough will be provided, so you just have to bring your own toppings.  There is a small charge per person, but I’m sure no one will be turned away. Contact Patty at or call 663-7977 for details.
Also, at Birch Grove School and Community Center is the West End social event of the year, the annual PTO Halloween Carnival.  This year it is on Sunday, Oct. 27 from 2 until 4 p.m.  This is a really fun event, with the traditional games and costumes, good food and a lot of neighborly visiting. 
Each time I attend the carnival, I’m instantly transported back to my childhood and the Endion Elementary School Carnival in Duluth.  I vividly remember how excited I was and how much fun I had racing from game to game.  I also remember being very surprised to see my parents running one of the games.  I won a set of Chinese finger cuffs, which made a big impression on me at the time.
Volunteers are always needed for the carnival.  I ran the bingo game for many years before a younger parent took over from me.  Calling bingo was a lot of pressure, because many of the players were experts and I was always worried that I’d make a mistake.  Of course, I made many mistakes, but they were kind to me and always made it fun.  Most of the volunteer positions are low pressure, though, so please help out if you can.  Call Diane at 663-0170 to sign up.
It is the time of year for getting your flu vaccine, which most people call a flu shot.  In the West End, the first round of shots will be offered Tuesday, Oct. 15.  The lovely and competent nurses from the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic will be at Moon Dance in Lutsen from 8:30 to 10 a.m. and then again in the clinic office at Birch Grove in Tofte from Noon until 1 p.m.
You must be more than 9 years old to receive a flu shot.  If you want to bill it to your insurance company, bring your information and insurance card.  Otherwise, you can pay the reasonable cost by check only.
A few years back, Norwegian author Vidar Sundstol wrote a murder mystery called “The Land of Dreams,” set here in the West End.  The protagonist is a Forest Service law enforcement officer named Lance Hansen.  The murder is committed at Father Baraga’s cross in Schroeder.  The subsequent investigation ranges from Duluth to Grand Portage and from present day back to the 19th century.
The novel, which won a prestigious prize for Scandinavian crime fiction, features many actual people from the West End, including yours truly in a bit part as the nephew of the hero.  All of the place names are real and Sundstol describes the places, people and culture of the West End in great detail.
“The Land of Dreams” has just been published in English.  Author Sundstol is actually in the midst of an author’s tour and will be visiting Cook County this week.  According to the publicity, Sundstol lived in Cook County for two years back in the early 2000s.  I don’t remember meeting him, but he was connected to the local Forest Service through his girlfriend, who was a Forest Service employee.
In the English edition, some names have been slightly altered from the real names, but it’s easy to tell who several of the characters are based on.  For instance, “Becky” Tofte is the paymaster at the Tofte Ranger District and is described as friendly, motherly and the person who takes care of everyone at the station.  It’s not a stretch to see Meg Tofte in that character. 
Oddly, Sid Backlund makes a cameo appearance as the owner of Sven and Ole’s Pizza in Grand Marais.  Perhaps he gave permission to use his real name in the English edition?  It will be interesting to find out.
I have become Gary Hansen, who owns and operates North Woods Outfitters on Sawbill Lake.  In the story, which I’m only halfway through, my uncle suspects me of having an affair with one of my young employees.  I hope he lets me off the hook on that charge before the end of the book.  He likes my fictional wife of 25 years, Barb, very much and doesn’t want me to hurt her feelings.  Barb is the name of my ex-wife, so Sundstol seems determined to get me in trouble with my real wife, Cindy.  Thankfully, I am told that I’m not the murderer, so I’m at least grateful for that.
It will be fun to hear the discussion that the book provokes as it makes its way around the community.  It is the first book of a trilogy, so there should be plenty to talk about for years to come.  It’s published by the University of Minnesota Press and is already available on Amazon.   It surely will be in local stores quite soon, if it isn’t there already.

Cook County Higher Education

West End News: October 3

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I am a huge fan of Cook County Higher Education. It’s the little college with the big heart that allows people in Cook County to pursue degrees and certificates without having to leave the county. 
Last week, Higher Ed announced an exciting new scholarship program funded by the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation.  The new program will provide significant scholarships to potentially dozens of people who want to pursue higher education, but have been held back by financial barriers.
Lloyd K. Johnson was a Cook County native who was the first in his family to go to college.  He graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School and was the Cook County Attorney for a few years.  After a move to Duluth, he became a very successful businessman, which gave him the wherewithal to establish the Johnson Foundation.  Now, years after Lloyd’s death, his foundation is making it possible for many Cook County residents to receive the blessing of a good education.
If you are worried about your ability to attend college in the midst of a busy working life, talk to the wonderful folks at Higher Ed.  They’ve done it themselves and have helped hundreds and hundreds of your neighbors improve their lives through education.  They will walk you through it, step by step, helping you with whatever you need, academically and financially, right through graduation.
By the way, Higher Ed has two other well-established scholarship programs: The Wes Hedstrom Scholarship and the North Shore Health Care Foundation Scholarship. 
The Johnson Foundation also has a separate scholarship program for Cook County High School seniors who want to attend Lake Superior College in Duluth.
You can get information on all of these exciting opportunities by calling Kristin or Paula at Higher Ed.  Their number is 387-3411.  You can find them online by searching Cook County Minnesota Higher Education.  Or, you can always contact WTIP and we will put you in touch.
A big congratulations to Ailee Larson of Lutsen who was named Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference athlete of the week, after winning a big collegiate cross-country meet last week.  She placed first among 147 runners.  Ailee is a student at St. Kate’s and is the daughter of Jana and Mike Larson of Lutsen.
I am thoroughly disgusted by the federal government shutdown this week.  There are many things wrong with our political system at the moment, but there are three main things that, in my opinion, are seriously wrong.
First, the radical Tea Party strategy to hold the country and world hostage in order to defeat laws that have been passed, signed, tested by the Supreme Court and enjoy majority support of the electorate is an attack on democracy itself.  Majority rule is the basis of our civil society.  Ultimatums and blackmail are never productive.
Second, extremely rich individuals and corporations, who have only their own narrow interests at heart, are funding these hostage takers, with no public accountability.  The unfair advantage created by unlimited and untraceable money in our political system has led to ridiculous gerrymandering of congressional districts that allows many representatives to disregard the voters.
Third, the people who are hurt the most by this insanity are our friends and neighbors here in Cook County.  They are the working people who take care of our campgrounds, maintain our roads, prepare our timber sales, protect us from forest fire, and the list goes on.  That these sincere and hard-working Americans are taking the brunt of a childish temper tantrum by a do-nothing minority of the most ineffective Congress in the history of the country makes my blood boil.

Bill Hansen with African friends in Nairobi, Kenya.

West End News: September 26

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There is still time to make your plans for the 18th Annual North Shore Health Care Golf Scramble, which will be held at Superior National in Lutsen this Sunday, Sept. 29. 
This valuable and important event was the brainchild of Sue Hansen and Patty Nelson, two of the most effective and respected residents in Lutsen.  It is the largest single fundraiser for the North Shore Health Care Foundation.  The Foundation supports Cook County health care organizations with grants and operates several very useful programs.  They have contributed more than a half million dollars since they started in 1995.
Registration for the golf scramble can be done in advance online - just Google the North Shore Health Care Foundation office in Grand Marais.  You can also register starting at 8:30 a.m. this Sunday.  The shotgun start is at 10 a.m.  You can put together your own team, or you can join a team when you register.  The golf will be spectacular this year, as it will coincide with the peak of the fall colors. 
There are many, many great sponsors for this event, but I do want to specifically mention Lutsen Resort, which traditionally sponsors the 19th hole after-party.  As always, you can contact WTIP for full details and contact information.
Another long-running North Shore event is happening all this week. The Crossing Borders Studio Tour is a chance for a self-guided tour of the home studios of professional artists all along Lake Superior’s North Shore.
This year, the art includes stone sculpture, Ojibwe artwork, pottery, weaving, glass, printmaking, wood turning, metal works, jewelry, and leather.  This is a great excuse to make some interesting stops while you’re out enjoying the fabulous fall colors. 
The tour runs from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day from Sept. 27 through Oct. 6.  Not only will you see a lot of beautiful art, but I guarantee you’ll meet some interesting and entertaining characters.
You can find a map and detailed directions at or contact WTIP.
Construction of the new, high-speed six-pack ski lift at Lutsen Mountains is moving full speed ahead. Last week, a heavy lift helicopter was delivering the lift towers to their permanent locations.  The Caribou Express lift replaces the old two-place Caribou lift and will cut the time between runs from 10 minutes to three and a half minutes.
Which reminds me, local ski pass deals get more expensive soon, so you might want to act fast if you want to take advantage of the generous discounts available to locals and part-time West End residents.
I was shaken by the terrible news about the terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya last week. 
Two year ago, I traveled in Kenya with my son, Adam Hansen. Adam spent a year in Kenya when he was a junior in college.  Nearly a decade after that experience, he arranged a three-month visit back to Kenya and invited me to join him for a couple of weeks.  We stayed with his college host family less than a mile from the Westgate Mall. 
We were actually inside the mall a couple of times, so when I saw the video of the attack and the nearby streets, I recognized it immediately.  Even at this safe distance, I felt a little of the fear and horror that the people in that neighborhood were feeling.
Like everyone else, I’ve become somewhat hardened to news of terrorist attacks in far away places.  It’s hard to admit that, because each attack is a crushing tragedy for those involved.  Every victim – and every terrorist – is someone’s child, and the violence causes grief that can last for generations.
Terrorism has been part of the human condition since prehistoric times.  It is not a problem that can be solved by increasing security or even by an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” as tempting as that may be.  It can only be solved by the long, arduous task of building a civil society.  Education, economic opportunity, a fair and equitable legal system, good governance and strong civic systems are the ultimate answer.
The good news, if there can be good news associated with such a horrific event, is that Adam’s host family and his many friends are all safe.  However, as he and I check in with the people we know and love in Kenya, their anger, sadness and shock have been palpable.  My heart goes out to them.
The whole experience has given me a new appreciation for what we have here in the little old West End of Cook County.  We aren’t without our problems here, but I’m profoundly grateful for the civic life that allows us to live in relative safety and happiness.  The distant tragedies serve to remind us to never take it for granted.

James Deloria stands by the brook trout canoe that he created.

West End News: September 19

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Congratulations to the Finland community on the occasion of paying off the debt for their beautiful Clair Nelson Memorial Community Center.  The taconite production tax, which is what the taconite companies pay instead of property taxes, was used to pay off the final debt.  The taconite industry had a good year last year, so some extra money was available.  Representative Dave Dill, working with Crystal Bay Township Clerk Deb Johansen and Lake County Commissioner Pete Walsh, arranged for the funds to come Finland’s way.
The original Finland Community Center was built sometime early in the 20th century and still stands, although it is now a private residence.  The second Finland Community Center was useful for many years, but in its later life it was in pretty tough shape and wasn’t a very welcoming space.  It was torn down in 2007, and the new Community Center was built, utilizing best practices for environmental responsibility and energy efficiency.  Features include super-insulation, geothermal heating and solar panels for electricity.
Friends of the Finland Community, led by Honor Shauland, manage the beautiful new facility and it receives a lot of use.  It has a commercial kitchen, a large auditorium that can double as a dining room, and lots of meeting space.  Now that the building is paid for, the Friends of the Finland Community can focus their resources on running and expanding the many programs they offer citizens of Finland.
The Care Partners Senior Rides program is an exciting new resource for seniors in Cook County. Senior Rides is a volunteer-assisted transportation program that fills in the gap for transportation needs not met by Arrowhead Transit or friends and relatives. The program includes trips to Duluth and trips around the county.
Arrowhead Transit already offers low cost rides for seniors, but sometime the schedule might not be convenient, or the senior might need someone to walk with them to the doctor’s office or carry groceries to and from the car.
The Senior Rides will be staffed by trained and qualified volunteers and is available to anyone over the age of 60.  They are currently recruiting volunteers, who must have a reliable vehicle and good driving record. Care Partners will reimburse mileage and provide a short training.
The next orientation is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 27 from 2 to 4 p.m. in the lower level classroom at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic. Call 387-3788 to sign up or for more information.
The program gets under way after Oct. 1.  It is best to schedule the rides a few days ahead by calling 387-3788.  As always, you can contact WTIP for details and contact information.
The Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder will be having its Wine and Beer Tasting Gala on Thursday, Sept. 26 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  It will also be a good time to take in the current photography exhibit by Dave DeGree.  Dave is a master photographer and the current exhibit includes fall color shots from last year, along with wild river pictures from the flood of June 2012.  Contact Susan at 663-7706 for more information.
Everything related to the weather has been late this year, so the fall colors are late too.  Here at Sawbill, this leaves us slightly bored at this time of year, so we were delighted when James DeLoria rolled in with a giant brook trout strapped to the roof of his car.  James is a well-known sculptor, painter and master goldsmith.  The trout on his car was actually a solo canoe, painted in the uncanny image of a brook trout.  James was headed to a secret book trout lake for a little fall fishing.  Maybe the brook trout canoe provides him with camouflage?

(Photo by Jessica Hemmer)