West End News: July 14

Fishing is a favorite summer pastime at Sawbill Outfitters
Fishing is a favorite summer pastime at Sawbill Outfitters

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I had the good luck last week to be invited to help out with the entertainment for the first annual Hopped Up Caribou Beer Festival at Caribou Highlands at Lutsen Mountains. Beer festivals are popping up all around the country due to a growing interest in home brewing and an increasing number of small, craft breweries that brew beer for a regional market. The Hopped Up Caribou Festival featured nine small Minnesota breweries, each showcasing a handful of their regular or seasonal beers. A crowd of nearly 400 people showed up for the event, which included food, music and educational sessions. Each participant was given a wrist bracelet and a small glass to use for sampling the beer. I was pleased to see that issue of intoxication was addressed directly and each group was urged to have a designated driver that wore a different color bracelet. While it was clear that some of the participants were there to enjoy the beer, scenery, food, music and companionship, many of the others were serious home brewers that were involved in intense beer conversations with the professional brewers and other enthusiasts. The beer tasters were encouraged to vote for their favorite brew and when the ballots were tallied, Fitgers Brewhouse from Duluth took home the most votes with their seasonal apricot wheat beer. Like so many other healthy activities, it was all about community, friendship, pleasure and supporting local economies. Congratulations to Caribou Highlands on their successful event.

Cindy, my lovely bride, was suddenly overcome with the urge to go fishing last week. It wasn't hard for her to talk me into going with her, even though the weather was fairly threatening. We quickly gathered the gear and bait and headed over to Alton Lake to try for some walleyes. We no sooner got in the canoe when it started to pour rain along with strong gusts of wind. When we got to the portage, thunder was drawing near, so we spent 20 minutes under the canoe, swatting mosquitoes and waiting for the worst to pass. Once we reached our chosen fishing spot, the clouds were breaking up, so we hooked up the leeches and settled in for some serious bobber watching.

We were soon distracted by a loon that was floating quietly near by. After about a half hour, it stretched its wings and two little fuzz balls plopped off its back and started swimming behind. The mama loon proceeded to make dive after dive, feeding the little guys and generally fussing over their appearance and well-being. Soon the father loon joined them and then the little family broke out in a chorus of wild song. It is good to see the baby loons this year after a nearly universal breeding failure last year. In fact, it's good to see loons at all after fearing that they might be devastated by the giant BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year that threatened thei4 winter home. Steve Gendron, from Minneapolis, has been counting loons in the West End for many years as a volunteer for the Minnesota Loon Watch program. He and his 10-year-old son Aiden stopped in a few days after our fishing trip to give us a report on what he found this year. Steve says that loon populations are definitely down this year, so maybe the oil spill took a toll after all. On Sawbill Lake, they only counted five loons, when normally they would find more than 10. Smoke Lake had two loons, while Burnt had three and Flame had none. He also counts Fourmile and Richie Lakes, which had two loons apiece this year. There were more single loons this year instead of the pairs that are usually common.

In any case, Cindy and I left the lake just about the time the walleyes usually start biting. We did have a few bobber-downs and caught one walleye, which we released. In our minds, this constitutes a highly successful fishing outing, especially combined with the dramatic clouds, double rainbow and spectacular sunset that we were treated to on the paddle home.

The shutdown of Minnesota state government is dragging on and dragging down the North Shore economy along with it. I read yesterday that religious and community leaders from all over rural Minnesota have been quietly meeting with the legislative leadership and urging them to find a compromise that can honorably end this terrible impasse. My dad, Frank Hansen, said many times that ultimatums are never a good thing. He thought that it was form of bullying and that giving in to bullies only encouraged their bad behavior. Frank believed that honest compromise was an honorable course and made for stronger, smarter and more durable solutions to problems. I hope that a compromise can be reached to pass a budget and end the shut down, and when that happens, I hope that the people of Minnesota will support and praise the spirit of compromise, which is the very basis of our enduring democracy. It seems likely that we are in a similar standoff at the federal level and it would be great if Minnesota could once again demonstrate how good sense and cooperation make us better as a state, a country and a people.

It looks like - knock on wood - it is going to be an excellent blueberry crop this year. We've had just the right amount of moisture and sun, so the bushes are loaded with blossoms and tiny green berries right now. Given our late spring, they might be a week or so later, but here's hoping that they are plentiful and plump. Speaking of which, the bears continue to be satisfied with their natural foods and are, for the most part, staying out of garbage cans, campsites and picnic baskets. The hazelnut crop looks very good this year and if the berries come in behind that, we may have our second year in a row with very few nuisance bear problems.

Depending on when you are hearing this, there may still be time to register for the historic Lundie Vacation Home Tour sponsored by the Schroeder Historical Society. The tour of homes designed by the late architect Edwin Lundie will be held Saturday, July 16, beginning at the Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder. The cost gets you the bus tour, live music and a fabulous picnic dinner at the end. The proceeds, of course, support the important work of the Schroeder Historical Society. You can get more information by searching for Schroeder history online or calling the Heritage Center at 218-663-7706.

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