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West End News

Bill Hansen

Contributor(s): 
Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen runs Sawbill Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail with his wife Cindy. Bill grew up in Cook County and knows the West End community well. The son of beloved WTIP volunteer and long-time West End News columnist Frank Hansen, Bill enjoys following in his father's footsteps.

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.

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West End News: December 24

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Sandi Furlow of Lutsen had a big week last week. 
 
On December 19th she retired from her job as a bus driver for the Cook County School Distict and on December 22nd she celebrated her birthday. 
 
I wasn’t able to find out how many years Sandi drove the school bus, but it was certainly more than 30 years. She was beloved by her young riders and had a perfect safety record.  Sandi knows almost everybody’s car by sight and is by far the most cheerful and enthusiastic waver in the West End.
 
I’m also not sure which birthday Sandi celebrated, but given her retirement, we can easily make a good guess.  That said, if someone were meeting Sandi for the first time, they would invariably guess her to be much younger than she is.
 
Congratulations to Sandi and from the bottom or our hearts the West End thanks you for taking such good care of our children over the years.
 
A federal court ruling last week put our West End timber wolves back on the endangered species list.  This means that recreational hunting and trapping of wolves will no longer be allowed, probably for at least two years and maybe for much longer.
 
The history of interaction between wolves and humans is ancient and often fraught with emotion.  From experienced wolf biologists to people who have never seen one, most people seem to have strong opinions about wolves.
 
With all due respect to people who enjoy hunting and trapping wolves, I am happy that our West End wolves will no longer be hunted or trapped. 
 
I have nothing against hunting or trapping in itself. However, from my perspective as a person who makes a living in wilderness tourism, my hunch is that wolves contribute much more to the West End economy when they are alive and roaming the woods.
 
I can personally attest that visitors and locals alike are thrilled when the see or hear a wolf.  For many people it occupies an important spot on their bucket list.  I often meet people who have traveled here from all over the world with the hope of seeing a wolf or even a sign of a wolf.
 
The wildlife biologists correctly point out that new pups born each spring easily replace the wolves killed during the hunting season.  However, for the six months in between, the wolf numbers are reduced. 
 
Even more important is the fact that hunting and trapping plays havoc with the complex social structure within a wolf pack.  It is a hard thing to quantify, but some recent studies have indicated that killing wolves may create more problems than it solves when it comes to wolves preying on pets and livestock.  It is at the least an interesting theory that deserves further study.
 
The whole subject of wolves is complicated and nuanced, so it behooves all of us to keep an open mind and consider all the arguments.  Everyone has a legitimate claim to their own relationship with wolves no matter what the circumstances.  Public policy should try to strike a balance that best serves the wishes of the whole society.
 
All of this reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a Tofte native who absolutely hated wolves.  He must have known that I liked wolves because he confronted me one day, out of the blue, and demanded that I give him a single good reason why wolves shouldn’t be wiped off the face of the earth. 
 
I drew a breath to answer, but before I could say a word he interrupted, saying: “Don’t give me any of that BS about predator/prey relationships providing balance in nature.”  All I could do was shrug and lamely say that I kind of liked having the wolves around.  I’m pretty sure he went to his grave without changing his mind.
 
Trails are opening all over the West End just in time for the big holiday tourist season.  I notice that the state snowmobile trail has been groomed and ski trails over the hill are also being groomed.  Lutsen Mountains is fully open with truly excellent downhill skiing.  The lakes are safe for foot and snowmobile travel and ice fishing has been good, by all reports.
 
The snowy woods in the hills above the big lake are just like a classic Norman Rockwell painting at the moment, so get out and enjoy the wonderful West End when you have the time.
 

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Marco Good, sleigh driver extraordinaire

West End News: December 18

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Visit Cook County is organizing sleigh rides at Cascade Lodge again this year. Although targeted at our tourist population, this is a fun event for locals and their visitors too. 
 
The horse-drawn sleigh ride begins at Cascade Lodge between Lutsen and Grand Marais.  Parking is at the lodge and you should arrive at least 10 minutes before the ride begins. The ride is roughly 45 minutes in an open hay wagon, so you should dress very warmly and wear insulated boots.
 
Marco Good is the sleigh ride operator. Marco brings a wealth of knowledge to his work. He is a walking encyclopedia of the history of horse logging in Minnesota in addition to being a perceptive naturalist.  He is also well-known for his friendly and outgoing personality and - how can I put this delicately – having a colorful vocabulary with a unique ability to turn a phrase.
 
The regular schedule is Friday, Saturday and Monday evenings, from Jan. 16 through the end of March.  During holiday times, there will be more rides available. 
 
In the past, bookings for the sleigh rides were made through Cascade Lodge; now reservations are made through Visit Cook County. The easiest way to make a reservation is online at visitcookcounty.com. You can also reserve by calling VCC at 387-2524.
 
A few weeks ago, I talked about the purchase and remodeling of the venerable Northwoods Café at the shopping center in Silver Bay.  Word has it that the new establishment has commenced their “soft opening” under the new name of Northwoods Family Grille.  The reviews I’ve received have been glowing, with both the remodeling and the food drawing enthusiastic praise.  I urge everyone to stop by to check out and support this new/old local business.
 
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a community square dance at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland.  It was a really good time, with a great turn out of more than 50 people.  Based on that success, there is discussion of making it a monthly event.
 
The Clair Nelson Center has become the vibrant heartbeat of the Finland area community, featuring many regular and one-off events. Coming events include the monthly communitywide potluck dinner, which is happening on Dec. 28, starting at 5 p.m. Bingo, featuring cash prizes, is on Jan. 4 at 2 p.m.  The North Shore Area Partners senior lunch and program is Jan. 6 from 10 until 2.
 
Lake Superior School District Community Education will start offering classes at the Clair Nelson Center for the first time.  The first classes will include Powering Your Home with Renewable Energy, Organic Gardening Basics, Basic Genealogy and Family History, Community Acupuncture, and the Core4 Business Plan course. 
 
For more information and registration, go to the Lake County School District, ISD 381 website.
 
Last week our dogs spent the better part of an afternoon barking at our dumpster.  An investigation revealed that a pine marten had taken up residence, thanks to a lid that was ajar.  I corralled the dogs and left the lid open for an hour, allowing the marten to escape - or so I thought. I closed and latched the lids carefully so the marten couldn’t get back in.
 
I left town early the next morning for three days.  When I got back, Cindy mentioned that the dogs were still barking at the dumpster every day.  I reopened the dumpster and dug through the fragrant contents.  I could see many signs of marten habitation, but no sign of the marten in the dumpster. Guessing that the marten was quietly hiding under the garbage, I propped the lid open again and retreated to the house. Sure enough, about an hour later I witnessed a very bedraggled marten hop out and run up a nearby tree. 
 
The dogs took up their positions at the base of the tree and after a few good shakes and some quick grooming the marten returned to its pre-dumpster good looks.  It soon departed through the forest canopy and the dumpster is now marten-less, much to the disappointment of the dogs.
 
As usual at this time of year, there is more snow over the hill than down in the banana belt along the shore.  After the most recent storm, we have 11 inches of snow here at Sawbill. It’s all the better because the 4 or 5 inches of old snow in the bottom layer is solid as a rock, which goes a long way toward covering up the rocks on the ski trail.
 
Speaking of which, I need to sign off so I can fire up the snowmobile and start grooming the ski trail!
 

Program: 

 
Tom Rider and Dave Carlson cutting Rosie the Golden Retriever out of the culvert where she was trapped.

West End News: December 12

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Here is some big news from Lutsen Mountains Ski Area. The Midwest Extreme Snowmobile Challenge race is coming to Lutsen Mountains Apr. 18 and 19.  Somewhere between 400 and 900 racers will compete in hillclimb, hillcross and short course cross-country events.
 
The event is organized by Cor Powersports, one of the largest cross-country snowmobile racing circuits in the United States. The hill climb competitors in our event will be eligible to qualify for the 2016 Jackson Hole World Championship Hillclimb.
 
The racing will take place on Moose Mountain, while downhill skiing will still be happening on Eagle Mountain. This will add up to a spectacular setting for spectators to enjoy exciting race action.
 
One of the reasons that Lutsen Mountains was selected for this event is their incredible snowmaking capacity, which makes is certain that they will have snow on hand to run the event.  Congratulations to the local organizers for attracting a fun event that will fill hotel rooms during a normally slow weekend.
 
Also from Lutsen this week, comes a story of dramatic rescue. Ann and Tom Rider, who live at the ski area, have a well-known and socially active golden retriever named Rosie.  In the two years since Rosie arrived, she’s become a ski area favorite.  She’s a frequent visitor to the main chalet during the ski season where she is literally mobbed by small children. She is also known for her unauthorized trips to the bottom of the Bridge ski lift, where she is welcomed by the skiers, but not so much by the ski patrol. 
 
During the summer, Rosie likes to slide on the Alpine Slide. Not in a sled with a human companion, but by jumping on the track herself and sliding hundreds of feet on her own legs.  She also loves road culverts and never misses the chance to run through any culvert she comes across.
 
Last week, Ann took Rosie for a walk on the golf course and was surprised when Rosie discovered a black plastic culvert that was more than a hundred feet long. Of course Rosie dove in and scooted to the far end of the culvert that was barely big enough to allow her to belly crawl through.  At the far end, the culvert had flooded and then frozen, creating a sloped sheet of ice on the bottom.  The ice also blocked the exit of the culvert.  Rosie could not get a purchase on the ice to climb back to the entrance.
 
The situation became a “Rosie is trapped in the well” type of scenario.  Ann, just like Lassie did so many times, dutifully and efficiently notified Tom of Rosie’s predicament.  Tom responded with a large blowtorch, hoping to melt the ice from the culvert exit.  When that proved impractical, he called Dave Carlson to bring down a large rescue saw.  Together, Dave and Tom were able to dig out the top of the culvert and cut off a section behind Rosie until she was able to climb out.
 
All’s well that ends well, but I have a feeling that this won’t be the last adventure for Miss Rosie.  Tom’s comment was, “Just another day in the life with Rosie.” 
 
Not everyone is aware that you can become a nurse by attending school right here in Cook County.  Cook County Higher Education in Grand Marais has trained many nurses over the last 10 years or so.
 
The first step to a nursing degree is to obtain your Nursing Assistant/Home Health Aide certification.  Higher Ed is offering this course starting in February. 
 
Of course, the certificate can also be used to find good paying work, even if you don’t want to be a nurse. You can actually start working before you finish the course and, in effect, get paid to learn.
 
The four-credit course is offered here but is accredited by Lake Superior College.  Local nurse, Mark Abrahamson, is the instructor.  Financial aid is readily available. The people who work at Higher Ed will do whatever it takes to make you successful in improving your skills and completing your studies.
 
For more information, contact Cook County Higher Education at 387-3411 or email highered@northshorecampus.org, or just search for Cook County Higher Education on the Internet.
 
Last week’s interruption of phone and Internet service was a reminder of how fragile our communication system still is here in the West End.  However, a few services kept working after the fiber optic line was accidentally cut, so the system is getting more robust. 
 
I think the workers who caused the outage were actually working on connecting up the new cell tower in Tofte. The tower has been up for over a year and the equipment arrived about a month ago.  I see the contractor trenching fiber optic lines up to the tower, so hopefully our communications in Tofte will improve dramatically as an early Christmas present.
 
(Photo courtesy of Ann Rider)

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Amy and Dave Freeman hours after finishing their 100 day canoe trip from Ely, Minnesota to Washington, D.C.

West End News: December 4

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Lutsen residents, Dave and Amy Freeman, arrived in Washington D.C. this week after a 100 day journey by canoe, sailboat and portaging.  About 40 Minnesotans greeted them at the Washington Canoe Club on the Potomac River.  The group flew to Washington to join the Freemans in a round of lobbying on behalf of the BWCA Wilderness and a sustainable environment and economy in northeastern Minnesota.
 
The Freemans are contributing to a movement that opposes the opening of proposed precious metal mining in the Lake Superior and BWCA Wilderness watersheds.  This is a new type of mining for Minnesota, which poses much higher risks than traditional iron mining.  Although the mining would provide some new jobs, many economists point out that it may well destroy more jobs than it creates.
 
As the Freemans made their unique journey from Ely to D.C., they conducted more than 50 media interviews and held about a dozen community presentations.  The canoe they used is a floating petition, jam packed with signatures from Minnesota, with many more added along the way.
 
When a reporter asked Amy which part of the trip was her favorite, she didn’t hesitate to name the BWCA Wilderness.  If I didn’t know better I’d guess that was because the weather was still summer-like when they were canoeing in the Boundary Waters.  But I know that bad weather doesn’t faze Dave and Amy.
 
Visit Cook County, the tourism association that represents all of Cook County, is having an open house in their new offices and information center in Grand Marais.
 
Executive Director Linda Kratt and her competent staff invite one and all to stop by on Wednesday, December 10th from 3 to 5 p.m.  The new Visit Cook County building is located on Highway 61 right in the heart of downtown Grand Marais, in what used to be Gunflint Realty. The building has been completely remodeled inside and is slated for a major outside face-lift this summer.
 
Visit Cook County was created about five years ago to combine the tourism promotion efforts of Grand Portage, the Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais and the Lutsen, Tofte, Schroeder area, known as the West End.
 
The numbers clearly show that the effort has been a big success, with Cook County’s largest industry, tourism, outperforming all our competitors over the last few years.
 
If V.C.C.’s good work isn’t enough to entice you to the open house, there will be many treats on hand to lure you in. 
 
One of Cook County’s most beloved characters is turning 90.  Lyle Gerard, better known as “Grandpa Lyle,” will have his birthday celebrated with an open house at North House Folk School on Saturday, December 13th from 1 – 4 p.m.
 
Grandpa Lyle is a lifelong advocate and activist for literacy.  He is well known among a whole generation of Cook County elementary students for his untiring volunteer work of reading in their classrooms.
 
Retired teacher, KB O’Neil, tells the story of the first time Lyle showed up to read to her kindergarten class at Birch Grove School.  KB sized up the mild mannered Lyle as not having the right stuff to control a class of excited 5 year olds.  She was amazed that within a minute or two Lyle had the entire class sitting stock-still and enraptured by the story he was reading.  She never worried about his skills again.
 
At this time of year, we see a lot of the classic movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey.  I submit that Lyle is the George Bailey of Cook County, making a big difference without calling attention to him self.  Lyle is one of those rare people who lead by quiet example.
 
I’m sure all West Enders join me in wishing Lyle a very happy 90th birthday and saying a heartfelt thank you for all you’ve done for our children.

(Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Ward)
 

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Old steel bridge over the Temperance River along the 600 Road in Tofte

West End News: November 27

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This week, the venerable 60 Minutes television news program ran a piece about the atrocious condition of America’s transportation infrastructure.  They laid out a grim story of crumbling highways, dangerous bridges and backed-up airports.  They pointed out that mass transit in the United States is decades behind the rest of the developed world.
 
The reason for this sad state of affairs was attributed to out of date tax policy along with political gridlock, resulting in the long-standing erosion of transportation funding combined with a failure to develop a cohesive plan for the future.
 
Some economists, planners and engineers also suggest that we have overbuilt our road system as a part of a society that has organized itself around the flow of automobiles for nearly 100 years now.
 
This has all come home to roost in the West End.  The U.S. Forest Service has asked for local input on which of our local forest roads are important to us and which roads are we okay with closing.
 
So far, the reaction, and I include myself in this camp, has been to keep all the local Forest Service roads open and maintained.  This is logical to those of us who use the forest roads for hauling timber, hunting, fishing, biking, wildlife viewing, riding ATVs and snowmobiles, and so on and so on.
 
The truth is that we cannot maintain the road system we have, even if we wanted to.
 
The Forest Service alone maintains 380 thousand miles of roads across the nation.  As of today, they’re facing a maintenance backlog of more than 8 billion dollars.  They only receive 20 per cent of what they need for normal annual maintenance, so the backlog is growing and growing fast.
 
If you drive the Forest Service roads here in the West End, you’ll see a lot of washboard, erosion, collapsed culverts and other un-repaired damage.
 
A couple of weeks ago, the beautiful antique steel bridge over the Temperance River on the 600 Road in Tofte closed permanently.  There are no plans to replace it because there is no funding in the pipeline. 
 
The 600 Road is important to both the timber and tourism industries.  During the summer it carries a lot of logging truck traffic and many tourists who enjoy its scenic beauty.  During the fall color season, it is a favorite destination for thousands of tourists and locals who are drawn to the world-class beauty of its maple ridges.
 
In the winter, it is an important part of the state snowmobile trail system.  Snowmobiles will still be allowed to cross the bridge, but the trail groomer will not and that portion of the popular state trail will not be groomed.
 
So, even as I join the chorus urging the Forest Service to keep all their roads open and maintained, I know my position is the equivalent to believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  Or, perhaps more to the point, it’s like believing that Congress will take some action - any action - toward a long-term vision of a better future for our country – or that we taxpayers will agree to pay for that future.
 
On lighter note, I recommend that you travel back over the hill during this holiday season.  The recent light snow was wet enough to stick to every branch, twig and needle and is now frozen tight.  It’s a Currier and Ives painting everywhere you look in the West End right now - just one more reason to be thankful for the chance to live here in the beautiful West End of Cook County.
 
 
 

Program: 

 
 Lutsen resident Amy Freeman viewing Statue of Liberty from a canoe

West End News: November 20

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The West End’s prodigal son, Noah Horak, will be back in Tofte for the holidays.
 
For the last three years, Noah has been riding his motorcycle around the world.  After working for several years as an electrical engineer, Noah took his savings and embarked on the trip of a lifetime.
 
His motorcycle is designed for off-road travel and Noah has ridden back roads, sheep tracks and game trails across every continent except South America.  Along the way he’s had crazy adventures and met many, many interesting people. 
 
His original plan was to ride home via South America, but he announced this week that he is returning stateside for the winter and is planning to switch from his motorcycle to his snowboard.  He points out that South America isn’t going anywhere, so he can return there anytime to complete his incredible journey.
 
I hope he will give a public presentation while he is home. I have to admit that I’m extremely jealous of Noah, but would love to imagine myself on his wheels while hearing a few of his stories firsthand.
 
Another set of West End residents who specialize in long distance travel, Dave and Amy Freeman, are nearing the end of their trip from Ely to Washington, D.C. by sailboat and canoe.
 
They are paddling a canoe that is a floating petition signed by people who are concerned with the negative environmental and economic effects of the proposed sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota. 
 
The trip started by canoe in Ely in early September.  They paddled across the BWCA Wilderness then strapped their canoe to a sailboat for crossing the great lakes.  They returned to the canoe for the remainder of the trip, which brought them through eastern Canada and New England.
 
They recently paddled through New York City, which they described as the most dangerous and frightening portion of the trip so far.  It wasn’t the 8 million people of New York City that scared them.  In fact, they were met on the water and warmly welcomed by members of the North Brooklyn Boat Club.  They spent the night at the club’s headquarters, sitting around a campfire, telling stories and eating delicious food.  I’m guessing this is not the usual activity for people visiting the Big Apple.
 
They were frightened by the intense ship and ferry traffic in the New York Harbor and the surrounding rivers and canals.  Dave and Amy are pretty resourceful though, having traveled more than 30 thousand miles by canoe, kayak and dogsled over the last 10 years, so they cleared New York without a scratch.
 
They are due in D.C. around the first of December and then will be returning Minnesota for the winter.  I don’t think they are planning to canoe back, but with Dave and Amy, you never know.
 
Last week I mentioned that the West End lakes were not suitable for ice skating this year, but I overlooked Caribou Lake in Lutsen that had smooth black ice for several days, including last weekend.  Dozens of people took advantage, especially on Sunday, making for a festive atmosphere on the lake.
 
The recent snow has now covered quite a bit of Caribou, but wind has kept some smooth rink-sized areas open.  If you go, never skate alone and be sure to carry hand picks to rescue yourself if you fall through.  It’s a good idea to pack an extra set of dry clothes to keep back in the car, just in case.
 
Speaking of snow, my friends on the North Shore seemed surprised when I mention that we have 6 inches of snow here in the backwoods.  It has come in little dribs and drabs every other day or so, but is definitely starting to add up.  If we get another inch or two, I should be able to set a track on the unplowed campground roads and get the cross-country skiing season under way.

(Photo courtesy of Wilderness Classroom)
 

Program: 

 
Alta McQuatters

West End News: November 13

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Shirley Bierbaum, longtime Schroeder resident, is turning 90 years old this month. Her many friends and family are organizing an open house celebration at the Cross River Heritage Center Saturday, Nov. 29 from 1 until 4 p.m.  Coffee and cake will be served.
 
Shirley and her husband Bob founded Schroeder’s Northland Hardware in the mid-1950s.  Long before Home Depot, Northland was our own local version of the hardware superstore, selling everything from nails to chainsaws to pots and pans. 
 
Shirley practically lived in the store in those days and was the go-to person for locating obscure and hard to find items.  When you asked Bob if they carried a #10 left-handed lag bolt ratchet driver in stainless steel, he would just turn his head and call out the description to Shirley, who would calmly and cheerfully walk straight to the shelf where the item was kept.
 
Shirley is also a talented musician and was the steady organist at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte for many, many years, among dozens of other community activities.
 
I know the whole West End joins me wishing Shirley a very happy 90th birthday!
 
The Cross River Heritage Center will also be hosting the annual Holiday Bazaar and Quilt Drawing Saturday, Nov. 22, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The 2014 Wall Panel honors Alta McQuatters’ famous grandfather, White Sky.  Alta cross-stitched the dream catcher squares for the quilt and the Cross River Quilters created complementary squares.
 
Speaking for myself, I would be honored to own such a beautiful quilt with such a significant connection to the history of the West End. The drawing for the quilt is at 2 p.m.
 
I was at the Cook County Courthouse last week for the breaking of the election tie in the 1st District commissioner’s race. It was good to observe, firsthand, how competent and careful the whole election process is in Cook County.  County Auditor Braidy Powers and County Attorney Molly Hicken demonstrated their deep knowledge and fair mindedness, reminding me of what a gift it is to live in a county that has such dedicated and honest elected officials.
 
It reminded me of an election tie that I got inadvertently involved with many years ago in Tofte.  The race was for Tofte Township Supervisor between the late Steve Krueger and Tim Norman.  Township election results are announced at the township annual meeting, held in the evening of Election Day, just after the polls have closed.
 
I was at the meeting because my mom, Mary Alice Hansen, had recently broken her hip and couldn’t drive herself to the meeting.  She was the Tofte township clerk at the time.  For some reason, the people in attendance selected me out of the crowd to moderate the meeting.  It wasn’t too tough of a job until the election judges announced that Steve and Tim had received the exact same number of votes.  Of course, none of us had any idea of how to deal with the situation and back then there was no instant Internet access to find out. 
 
At my suggestion, the candidates agreed to decide the election by the toss of a coin. Steve made the call in deference to his status as a founder of the Tofte township and his long service on the town board.  He won the toss, which was great, because he retired at the end of his term and Tim got his chance to serve after that.  There were no hard feelings and everyone seemed satisfied.
 
About a year later, a citizen confronted me at the post office and told me that I had violated the law by deciding the election with a coin toss. It worried me enough that I called both Steve and Tim to see if they thought I’d done something wrong.  They both very kindly assured me that the coin toss was fair and they were completely satisfied.
 
Sawbill Lake froze over during the day on Monday, Nov. 10.  It probably was ready to freeze a day or two before that, but persistent winds kept it open.  All of the lakes in the West End are now officially iced over, and looking at the forecast, it looks like they’ll stay that way.
 
Unfortunately, it does not look like ice-skating will be good this year because there is too much snow on the ice.  I never give up hope, because freakishly warm weather or rain can resurface the ice into perfect smoothness, but that seems unlikely at the moment.
 
The snow-covered roads caused me to comment to my partner, Cindy, how I learned in Ding Dong School that the slipperiest road surface is packed snow at 22 degrees Fahrenheit.  She was unimpressed with my knowledge of road conditions, but was highly amused by my reference to Ding Dong School. 
 
Ding Dong School was the common name for the Driver Improvement Clinic that was a class specifically for 16- and 17-year-olds who got speeding tickets. A very nice Hennepin County judge gave me the no-brainer choice of Ding Dong School or a three-month suspension of my driver’s license.
 
My Ding Dong instructor, Mr. Erickson, was actually a very good teacher.  His first request to our particular group of juvenile delinquents was that we not refer to his class as Ding Dong School.  I wondered then - and now - what horrible crime he had committed in order to be sentenced to teach Ding Dong School.

I learned many defensive driving tips from Mr. Erickson that I still use today, 45 years after my one and only brush with the criminal court system. I do question his teaching of the 22-degree mark for maximum slickness of packed snow.  I feel like the roads are greasier up near the freezing mark.
 
But who am I, as a Ding Dong School graduate, to question his wisdom?

(Photo courtesy of the Schroeder Area Historical Society with Alta McQuatters of Lutsen, and the quilt honoring her grandfather, White Sky)
 

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Sawbill Trail in 1939 (showing old telephone lines)

West End News: November 5

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The North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum is holding its fifth annual story telling dinner at Lutsen Resort Friday, Nov. 21 starting at 6 p.m.
 
This year, Art Fenstad will share his recollections about how telephone service first came to the North Shore.  His talk is titled, “Broadband, Then and Now,” referencing the similarity between the availability of telephone 100 years ago and the broadband internet that is being installed now.
 
It’s hard to imagine what a profound effect the telephone had on daily life in the West End back in the early days of the 20th century.  At that time a simple exchange of letters with someone in Duluth would take a couple of weeks at best. Suddenly, you could crank up your phone and ask the operator to connect you instantly.
 
When I first came to Tofte in 1957 the old crank phones and local operators were still a recent memory. For quite a few years after that, when you wanted to make a local call you only had to dial the last four digits. 
 
Here at Sawbill, we had a private telephone line that Sawbill Lodge had taken over from the CCC. It consisted of two bare, #10 steel wires on 12-foot cedar poles and was originally built to provide communication with the Kelso Mountain fire lookout tower.  The simple system could only handle one call at a time, so we had to have a party line with our neighbor.  One ring meant it was for them and two rings meant it was for us.
 
Every time there was a stiff wind, a tree would fall across the line causing the phones to go dead.  Someone would have to drive down the Sawbill Trail, locate the break and splice the heavy wires back together.  This crude system lasted until the late 1960s when a big windstorm finally knocked several miles of poles down and we started thinking about new fangled radiophones.
 
Now, we are just a few weeks away from abandoning those radiophones in favor of a high capacity wireless internet link and cell phones.  I foresee a time in the relatively near future when all communication will be done via portable devices talking directly to low orbit satellites.
 
Instant, universal and cheap access to limitless information and communication will doubtless have as profound an effect on our lives as the coming of the telephone did 100 years ago.
 
If you want to hear Art Fenstad tell his stories, call Lutsen Resort at 663-7212 and make your reservations by Nov. 12.  The event is a major fundraiser for the museum, so there is a charge, but it’s a small price to pay for hearing wonderful stories in a beautiful historic lodge while eating delicious food.  
 
In the time-honored tradition of “too many fun things to do in the West End on a given night,” the Birch Grove Community School is holding their annual fundraiser dinner, dance and silent auction Friday, Nov. 21 at Papa Charlie’s in Lutsen. 
 
This is a really fun event and important to the school, so the challenge will be how to support both events. My strategy is to get to the Birch Grove event early, because is starts at 4 p.m, have a beverage, pay the small fee for dinner but not eat it, visit, get my silent auction bids down and then head down to Lutsen Resort in time to hear Art’s stories and eat a delicious dinner.  As soon as that event starts to wind down, I’ll hotfoot it back up to Papa Charlies’s to dance to one of my favorite bands, “Cook County’s Most Wanted,” and pick up my fabulous auction purchases.
 
And when I get home, happy but tired, I’ll make a phone call and do some high speed browsing on the internet - just for fun.

(Photo courtesy of Forest History Society)

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Icy dip

West End News: October 30

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As I speak, the parking lot here at Sawbill is empty for the first time since May 16.  Every year, I think there will be a car or two left over after the season, but miraculously, they all disappear when the lakes start to freeze.
 
It makes sense to me that our culture has evolved the holiday that celebrates spookiness at this time of year.  The woods are very eerie right now. With the leaves fully down, the forest is a collage of vertical grey lines, leading the eye up to an implacable leaden overcast sky. 
 
Even the loons have turned a dull grey. They seem to float lower in the water this time of year, rarely diving, and trading their wild summer laughter for tiny, muted hoots.  I guess they’re conserving energy for their upcoming marathon migration flight to the Gulf of Mexico.
 
The strangest part of being in the woods now is the sound - or the lack thereof.  The wind through the bare branches takes on a shrill and brittle moaning note. If the wind isn’t blowing, there is complete and utter silence, punctuated only by the occasional report from a chick-a-dee or blue jay.  And just when you think you’re all alone, you hear the wolves howling in the distance or the grunt of a rutting moose, to remind you that the wheel of life is turning, even as the edge of the snow blanket inexorably creeps toward us from the north.
 
Once we get past All Hallows Eve, it’s time to celebrate the storms of November and the clear, crisp, brilliant winter days that are just over the horizon. The Cook County Visitors Bureau has declared Nov. 7 through 9 the second annual Lake Superior Storm Festival.  There are many fun events scheduled, but the one you really don’t want to miss is the “wave dash” at Lutsen Resort Saturday, Nov. 8.  At high noon, you can join with a large group of other crazy - I mean courageous -people sprinting into the welcoming bosom of Lake Superior to enjoy a brief swim. This invigorating event is a fundraiser for the Lutsen Fire Department. By the way, if you don’t see me there by noon, please feel free to start without me.
 
I was dismayed to see that the Northwoods Cafe, a community institution in Silver Bay, was closed.  Luckily, the closure is only temporary while new owners extensively remodel and update the popular gathering spot. 
 
The new restaurant will be called the Northwoods Family Grille and will feature award-winning hamburgers and barbeque, along with other American food classics and all day breakfast.  Online ordering and take-out services will be available.
 
Congratulations to the new owners, Floyd Baker, Jessica Moen-Baker, Everette Haselow and Anne Haselow.  They expect to open their doors in mid-November.  Once they open, I encourage all West Enders to show their support by eating there frequently.
 
This radio station, WTIP, is a miracle in our community. WTIP is our community.  The proof is that nearly every time you turn it on, you hear the voice of a friend and neighbor. More often than not, they are volunteers, just like me.
 
Recently, I got my hair cut in a small town outside of Cook County. The barber had his radio tuned to an ordinary commercial radio station. I was appalled to hear a nearly continuous stream of vitriolic political attack ads.  These ads are paid for by people and organizations that don’t live anywhere near here  - with interests that have little or no connection to our community.  Personally, I harbor bipartisan resentment toward all attack ads.
 
In contrast, WTIP’s contribution to the political season has been thoughtful, in-depth candidate forums with questions directly from the voters. This reflects the dignity and importance of our democracy and demonstrates the mutual respect that allows a community to flourish in a way that is fair to all.
 
Last, but not least, I wonder which child listening to WTIP now will be inspired to become the next Bob Dylan, the next Jim Oberstar or the next Martin Luther King.  Or maybe they will be inspired to become a city councilor, or a great teacher, or an informed and effective citizen.
 
Please join me in supporting this vital community asset.

(Photo courtesy of Visit Cook County)
 
 

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Throwing for the spare under the disco lights at the Silver Bowl in Silver Bay

West End News: October 23

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The West End resorts are all reporting that the fall color season was gangbusters this year.  This makes the annual tourism slow-down of late October and November a welcome respite before the busy winter season kicks into gear.
 
Although many of our visitors have temporarily deserted us, there is still a lot going on in the West End. 
 
Don’t forget about the two events I mentioned last week: The bluegrass music gathering at Lutsen Resort from October 31st through November 2nd; and the bloodmobile at Zoar Lutheran Church on the afternoon of November 11th…but those are just the tip of the iceberg.
 
The umteenth annual Birch Grove Halloween party is happening again this year from 6 to 9 pm on Friday, October 31st, at the Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte.  I don’t have many details, but it’s always a good time for kids of all ages.
 
The Lutsen Lutheran Church is reaching out to engage the West End in helping with the Ebola epidemic West Africa.  The church is generously offering to match any community donations, dollar for dollar, up to $5000.  The gifts will go to Lutheran Disaster Response where 100% will be directed to Ebola relief. 
 
Donations can be sent to the Lutsen Lutheran Church at Box 145 in Lutsen, 55612.  Make your checks payable to the church with Ebola Relief written in the memo line.  If the community is as generous as it usually is, this will mean $10,000 in much-needed aid to the hard hit communities in West Africa.
 
The University of Minnesota Press has just published the second book in a murder mystery trilogy that is set here in the West End.  Norwegian mystery writer, Vidar Sundstol, lived in Lutsen at one time and wrote much of the series while living here.  They were published several years ago in Norway, but are just now being released in English translation. 
 
The main character in the series is a fictional Forest Service law enforcement officer named Lance Hansen.  The tense, psychological novels revolve around a bloody murder discovered at Father Baraga’s cross in Schroeder.
 
Many of the characters in the novels are clearly based on real people from Cook County.  All have fictional names that are similar to their real names, except for Sid Backlund, from Grand Marais, who randomly has a small part using his real name and occupation.
 
I have a bone to pick with the author because he based a character on me, who the protagonist suspects of having an inappropriate love affair with a young female employee.  The suspicion is based on rather flimsy grounds, in my opinion. The worst part is that he never resolves whether or not there actually is an affair and that branch of the story line is never mentioned again in the rest of the series.  I would at least like to know definitively if my character is a scumbag or just a guy who is unusually friendly with his employees.  Sheesh!
 
That aside, the books are great fun for West Enders to read.  The first book is titled “Land of Dreams” and the second, available now, is called “Only the Dead.”  The third and final book of the series, titled “The Raven,” has been published in Norwegian for some time, but will be available in English this April.
 
I’m happy to report that Logan and Jolene Fischer have purchased the “Silver Bowl” bowling alley in Silver Bay. The Fischers are young entrepreneurs with deep roots in Silver Bay.  They’ve made a bunch of improvements already to the facility that was built, along with the rest of the town, in the late 1950s.
 
In addition to remodeling and equipment upgrades, they’re offering deep discounts on Tuesdays and Sundays in an effort to reacquaint people to this area landmark.
 
We took the Sawbill crew bowling this week and found the Fischers and their two young children to be friendly and competent hosts.  I urge everyone to support local business by stopping in to enjoy some great bowling, pizza, pop and beer. 
 
I don’t know if it was the new ownership, but I actually bowled a score that broke triple digits, a rare experience for me.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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