Last week, Sawbill Lake was almost frozen over. The official criterion for freeze-up is when the lake is more than 90% frozen. Sawbill got close to that, but then reopened over the weekend. Two young men appeared on Friday evening and proposed going out on a canoe trip. However, they accepted our strong recommendation to stay in the campground and take day trips into the wilderness, to avoid being frozen in. When they did venture out on Saturday and Sunday, they found most of the bays frozen and weren't able to paddle very far in any direction.
In the past, the lakes used to freeze pretty reliably right around the first of November. The first time we were able to paddle on Thanksgiving was in the late '80s. At that time, the old-timers around here said that they had never seen the lakes freeze that late. Since then, it has become a fairly routine phenomenon. In 1975 or '76, we actually had below zero temperatures in October and the ice on Sawbill was 6" thick on Oct. 26 when a van pulled up to the canoe landing with two canoes on top. We skated over to chat with the surprised canoeists. I remember the party leader protesting that the lakes were still open in Minneapolis.
Sometime in the '90s, we had a party get frozen in on Cherokee Lake. Cherokee was still open, but when they headed back toward Sawbill, they found Cherokee Creek too thick to paddle and too thin to walk. They returned to their campsite and waited for rescue. When they were a day overdue, we contacted the sheriff, who asked the Forest Service to send their Beaver float plane over to take a look. The campers efficiently signaled S-O-S to the plane, so the pilot landed and taxied to their campsite. He informed the group that the route to Brule Lake was open and if they paddled there, he would call Sawbill Outfitters to come pick them up. They refused that option in favor of being flown out immediately. The pilot said he would only fly them out if they agreed to pay for the flight and left ASAP without their canoes and camping equipment. For some reason, they chose this more expensive, inconvenient option.
Two months later, Steve Schug, from Schroeder, went in with the Forest Service dog team and retrieved the canoes and equipment. He was able to get everything in one trip by loading the gear in the plastic canoes and dragging them behind the dog sled, which worked surprisingly well. In the two months that the gear had been alone in the wilderness, it had been ravaged by rodents and pine martens. I called the party leader and we worked out a deal for me to bring the gear to his office during a routine trip down to the Twin Cities. His office turned out to be high in the IDS tower in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. When the elevator doors opened, I was greeted by an opulent reception room and a glamorous and decorous receptionist. She eyed my pile of stinky, semi-thawed camping gear with open disdain. As I explained my business with her boss, I mentioned that it was entirely possible that small rodents were hibernating within the gear and might wake up as they warmed. She told me firmly to put the gear in her boss' office and shut the door - tight. That's the last I ever heard of it, but it's entirely possible that distant descendants of Cherokee Lake mice are still living high in the IDS tower.
This is the time of year when we all pause to count our blessings and think about what we are thankful for. I am thankful for all the people who chose to support WTIP in the recent membership drive. I'm even more thankful for WTIP itself and the wonderful asset it has become for our community. In many ways, WTIP is representative of all that is good in our little corner of the world. There are literally too many good people, doing too many good things, to list in this limited time. Life is surely a balance of joy with sadness, but I am profoundly grateful to be part of a community where people live in dignified fellowship with each other and with nature.