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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:
John Lyght

West End News Jan. 20

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Usually I have no trouble writing a farewell piece in this column about West End friends who have recently left us, but writing about John Lyght's passing presents a problem. Where do I start writing about John? The stories about him are without end. I now realize that I knew John and counted him as a good friend for just over 50 years. A lot happens in that length of time.

John was certainly a no-nonsense person in all that he did, whether it was driving a truck in his younger years; or as sheriff for a couple of decades before retirement. An example of that was the crucial help that he gave Sawbill Outfitters when we were trying to get a radio telephone after our ancient hard wire phone line collapsed.

We had long time and expensive negotiations with the Federal Communication Commission. The problem was that AT&T still controlled all of the radio telephone licenses. For us to get a license, that monopoly would have to relinquish a license. AT&T had powerful influence with the FCC, so our application was rejected out of hand. Only intervention by then-Sen. Walter Mondale got our application retrieved from the wastebasket. We eventually cleared the FCC and then we had to contend with the Canadians for the reason that our signal might stray into Canada. The Canadians handled the situation by taking no action for more than a year.

John Lyght had written a strong letter in support of our getting a license since we were so remotely located. I told him of our problem with the Canadians. John said that he would see what he could do. He got dressed in full uniform, went across the border to Thunder Bay and convinced the people there to contact Ottawa on our behalf. Within a week we were informed that the Canadians had removed all objections because of the recommendation of Sheriff John Lyght. The statement from the Canadians read, "The senior law enforcement officer in the jurisdiction, one Sheriff John Lyght, finds no objection to this action.” Our State Department could have used John.

So John Lyght has left us. A legend in his own time, stories about John will be told for a long, long time.

The tragedy in Haiti revived memories of a long ago effort based here in Cook County to help a non-profit group in Haiti. I would guess that this all took place about 30 years ago.

Folks here were collecting lightly used bars of soap from motels in the county, and used clothing to send to Haiti. The problem was to get the collected soap and clothing to Haiti. The cost of shipping was prohibitive. A second consideration was the information that there was a high risk that the shipment would be stolen when it arrived in Haiti.

For some reason, which I do not remember, a unit of the Minnesota National Guard was shipping out to Haiti. One of the senior noncoms in the unit had a summer home in Lutsen. He became aware of the shipment problem and volunteered to have the stuff included in the National Guard material, no charge for shipping. He mentioned that the unit was looking for a project when they got to Haiti.

Carol and George Cole had a cabin about mid-trail on the Gunflint. George was a Mayo Clinic physician. He and Carol went to the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti for several months at a time to volunteer. The hospital was in bad physical shape. A lot of repairs of all kinds needed to be made. The suggestion was made to the Guard unit that the connection of Carol and George and the Cook County effort might make the hospital rehab a project.

The Guard unit was made up of members with all kinds of construction skills. There were plumbers, carpenters, electricians, refrigeration mechanics, auto mechanics and other skills as well. The hospital was approved as a project and the unit arrived like a swarm of bees. The guardsmen had the skills, and the military had the supplies. It took about a month to get the place all ship-shape. The final project was the repair of the staff swimming pool, which had not been in operation for years. It was fixed, the guardsmen took a swim, and then back to Minnesota. I Googled the hospital website to see how the earthquake had affected Hospital Albert Schweitzer.

The hospital is located about 40 miles north of Port-au-Prince. The hospital was undamaged, but almost immediately seriously wounded patients showed up. The patient load went from 75 to 80 patients a day to 500 admitted the day after the earthquake, most with critical injuries. Medical supplies are rapidly being exhausted. Patients are being treated in hallways and outdoors in the courtyard. The website said that anyone with any medical provider skills has come to the hospital from remote clinics in the hills. This situation is beyond even the talented Minnesota National Guard. It defies decisions about what action can be made which would make a difference. This is way beyond collecting soap.


Frank remembers friend and commercial fisherman Kermit Carlsen of Schroeder who passed away this past week.

West End News Jan. 13

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The Birch Grove Center at Birch Grove School offers lots of events to the West End community. A great one is skating at night under the lights on the Birch Grove rink. This weekend will be special. Good ice, mild temperatures, and if you want to make the skating into a party, pizza is available at the center from 5 until 9 on weekend nights. Fun, fun, fun.

Our community lost another friend and fisherman with the death of Kermit Carlsen of Schroeder this past week. Kermit and Margaret were partners not only in marriage, but also in their commercial fishing. They were forced to stop fishing when the pollution from the Erie mining plant fouled their nets. Kermit was prominent in calling out Erie mining for the pollution. Erie eventually paid substantial fines to the state for the pollution. Unfortunately the individual commercial fishermen who suffered losses because of the pollution were forgotten in the settlements.

Kermit also joined in the skepticism and anger of the local fishermen about the ever-increasing load of regulations which, in his opinion and the opinion of most of the fishermen, made little sense. Kermit was able to explain all of this in either Norwegian or English.

One story that Kermit told me which was hilarious was this: He was in a coffee shop in Duluth, in line, waiting to order coffee. The man ahead of him was talking on his cell phone in Norwegian about a very personal matter, probably believing that no one close by understood Norwegian. Just for fun Kermit gave his order to the clerk in Norwegian. Kermit said, "He dropped the phone.” A wonderful Norwegian joke.

We will all miss Kermit. The West End community extends our sympathy to Margaret and the members of the family.

The census count is getting close. This census is critical for Minnesota at every governmental level, township, county, state and federal, for the reason that the population of the state is close to the point where Minnesota is in real danger of losing one congressional district. Many entitlement programs are based on the number of people in the governmental unit.

For example, for years Cook County was not eligible for money from some federal programs because the county had fewer than 5,000 official residents according to the census. No matter how many are actually here, only the official count determines eligibility.

For this reason I feel it is very important that each resident of the county be counted in the census. It is beyond important, it is critical, especially in the West End for the reason that we have the only official townships in the county. So please consider lending your cooperation to the effort and be counted in the census.

You would think that this would all be cut and dried but there are glitches now and then. We experienced this at the time of the first census after we moved to Sawbill full time, which was the 1980 census. We waited for the interviewer to show up, but no one came. We called the census supervisor and found out that somehow as far as the census went we were in "no man's land.”

The boundary for census districts was the Sawbill Trail. The east side of the trail where we lived was in the jurisdiction of a census district far away. The west side of the trail after the top of the hill out of Tofte had no residents. An enumerator had come and visited the west side, vacant campgrounds and all, and had gone home. The enumerator for the east side looked at a map, decided that there were not residents, so did not come.

An enumerator made a special trip to question us, which was good. We asked about the folks around Pancore Lake, and the folks on the Grade and Gust Lake. The answer was, "What folks?" I imagine that it was absolutely against all regulations, but we volunteered to deliver census documents to these folks and the offer was accepted. We were sure that if the census could not find us they would never find the neighbors tucked away in the woods. So make sure that you are counted.



Yup'ik man from Nunivak Island, 1929

West End News Jan. 7

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I received a beautiful book for Christmas about the Yup'ik people of coastal southwestern Alaska. The book is a comprehensive study of all aspects of how these people lived before there was corruption from the white invaders.

The tribal groups lived a very self-sufficient existence, both embracing the resources that came to them from the ocean and the land; and at the same time guarding against the adversities that they knew would come from the ocean and the land.

Nothing was wasted. There were very clever uses of materials at hand. For example, carefully preserved fish skins were crafted into waterproof jackets. As well as using the materials, the finished products were decorated to the point where they became pieces of art as well as utility.

The book took many years to assemble. The project was just in time to profit from the skills and memories of the elders still living. Many of the artifacts are in museums.

Today things that were made as part of life such as fur clothing, kayaks, and eating and cooking utensils are a part of history. What was common knowledge is now largely lost, save for a few craftsmen who produce the items as art objects, not items made to preserve life. These people are few in number and many are advanced in age.

Locally much the same thing is true. How many descendants of our original settlers know how to set a herring net? How many could set out on Lake Superior and find their way to the nets, if they had set any? How many descendants of loggers have the skills that were once commonplace? There are still a few folks who are capable and skilled, but not many.

I am not a survivalist; but it is too bad that folks can starve right next to an ocean or lake with fish to be caught; or have no idea how to provide shelter for themselves. I applaud the efforts to preserve historical skills, language and customs.

Those of us who employ college students in summer jobs can't help but wonder where these carefully selected students end up after they are with us. We were visited by a group of former employees recently. As we chatted with them I realized that one was an attorney, and the rest all had master's degrees. I let my mind drift back over the past years and identified many who had gone on to achieve advanced degrees in different academic and professional fields. I had never realized before how well our employees have done over these many years. Should we take any credit for their success? Probably not.

The present discussion about whether the county should hire a county administrator continues a topic that has been on the table for 30 years or more. My eight years as a county commissioner convinced me that a county administrator is essential. County commissioners are good people and mostly highly motivated to do a good job; but with great respect, most of them have no administrative skills. In this day we need a county administrator for the county.

I am reminded of a conversation that I had with Clarence Hemmingsen, a long gone resident of Lutsen. Clarence said, "When I moved to Cook County in the early 1930s the county board was just five wolf trappers, and I think that was too much specialization.”


Citizen band radio

West End News Dec. 30, 2009

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One more time, West End folks have demonstrated their generosity and their support for the Birch Grove Foundation. The match offered by the Grand Marais State Bank was met well before the deadline. The money will go directly into the endowment fund. As soon as the endowment grows to $25,000, Birch Grove will begin to benefit from income from the fund. The payments will be placed in an annuity.

There is an important change in the day of the senior lunch at Birch Grove. The lunch has been on Thursdays. When school is back in session the lunch will shift to Wednesdays. Spread the word about this change to your friends and neighbors who may not know about the change.

Those of us who knew Cap and Billie Peterson who owned Tait Lake Lodge are fascinated by the articles in the local newspaper about them and their Lodge.

A recent article mentioned that the former generator shed was now a storage building. There is quite a story about the generator at Tait Lake.

After Cap died Billie stayed at the Lodge. She had her mother and her sister with her much of the time. The community was concerned about them being at the isolated Lodge with no communication. We installed a citizen band radio for them, which allowed them to join in the network of neighbors who also had these radios. We were at Sawbill Lake, Wally Lee was at Cascade Lake, the Osmans were at Sawbill Lake in the winter and at Brule Lake in the summer, and Harley Dinges was on an island resort on Brule Lake.

All of these folks maintained a contact schedule twice a day, at seven in the morning and again at seven at night. This was taken very seriously. If someone was not going to be on the net, this was made known to the group. Billie was especially good about this. If someone did not "report in" the group did not let it go until the reason for not reporting was established.

Billie was dependent on her generator running so that she would have power to run the radio. On one occasion she failed to report in the morning, the evening and again the following morning. This meant that she needed to be checked on right away. Wally Lee volunteered to drive in to Tait Lake to check. He discovered that the generator was out of order and that Billie had no idea what was wrong with it.

Wally spread the word from the radio in his truck. At this point coincidence set in. Ken Osman was a master mechanic but he also happened to have two employees of the Onan generator company visiting him at the time. They all got into Ken's large boat on Brule, crossed the lake, then drove to Tait over horrendous roads to help Billie out.

The generator was an Onan machine, a single cylinder diesel. The Onan employees found the trouble, a broken wire, and got the generator going. They also made another discovery: That generator was one of the earliest of that model built by the Onan company. They were amazed that it was still running at all.

They went back to work and mentioned what they had found to Bud Onan, the son of the founder of the company. Bud offered to swap Billie a new machine, even Steven, for her old generator. Billie was delighted. Ken Osman and the Onan folks brought the machine to Tait and installed it for Billie. They took the old one back to Onan where it was totally reconditioned and then put on display in the reception area of the Onan factory, then on University Avenue in Minneapolis.

That was in the very early ‘60s. I don't know when the new generator was removed from Tait; but at the time of removal it was probably as old or older than the generator it replaced.

This is just one of many stories in the saga of Cap and Billie at Tait Lake, and another example of the caring folks in the West End helping each other.


Fresh snow brightened the north shore landscape

West End News Dec. 23, 2009

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There is good news about the matching fund for the challenge grant made by the Grand Marais State Bank for the Birch Grove Foundation. As I write this the Birch Grove community is within five hundred dollars of meeting the challenge. The deadline is Dec. 31. So near and yet so far.

On Monday, the shortest day of the year, we finally got a start on a decent snowfall. Three to four inches total was about what fell, both along the Shore and in the high back country of the West End. Not a great amount, but it is enough to let folks with brand new snow blowers and plow trucks plow with dignity.

Time does flip by when you are not looking. I can scarcely believe that I have been writing and broadcasting the West End News on WTIP for more than a year. Off and on for most of my career I have written columns and done broadcasting in a variety of settings.

This is the first time that the column is both printed online and also broadcast on WTIP community radio. Not only that, but I have discovered that all kinds of relationships lead folks to tune in WTIP from all over the world. Cabin owners, vacation visitors, residents living temporarily or permanently out of the area listen regularly and read the web page.

All of this produces an entirely different feeling for me than an isolated written column or a broadcast. The folks who consider themselves part of the West End Community are clearly spread far and wide; but still enjoy maintaining contact with their home community. 

The set up provided by WTIP makes this more possible than ever. What used to be an occasional letter has turned into real time contact.

It is a lot of fun to be part of all this. The best part is the cooperation that is extended to me by the West End folks. I am grateful that our folks feel free to phone or e-mail when they have items for me to include in my broadcast. The West End goes with the flow.

As we enter the new year let us hope that not only the West End, but that the rest of the county, state, nation and world will begin to adopt the same attitudes toward getting along with each other that we do so well in the West End.

Let us hope for a peaceful and profitable 2010.


The Johnson family has a wonderful display of lights in the West End--just up the Cramer Road

West End News Dec.17, 2009

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There is momentum with the financial match that the Grand Marais State Bank has offered to the Birch Grove Foundation. A little more then half the amount going toward the match has been donated or pledged so far. The deadline is Dec. 31. With all of the holiday activities complicating life, time passes quickly, so the end of the month is not far off. Every dollar donated goes into the endowment fund. Income from the endowment fund will flow to the Birch Grove children and the greater community for all time.

Take the time to drive up the Cramer Road to see the magnificent display of holiday lights at Floyd Johnson's home. This display has been offered for several years. Each year it gets better than the last. Thanks to the Johnson family for providing this spectacle to the community.

Since I wrote my last column including an appeal to get the H1N1 immunization for those eligible at that time, eligibility has been extended to everyone who wishes to get the immunization, without exception, at no charge. The shots are available at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. each day.

We have become complacent about the potential danger of infectious disease. Years ago people died of diseases that are effectively prevented by immunization now. All eight of my great- grandparents died of infectious diseases at fairly young ages. Would you believe that 750,000 humans die each year of measles? Right now, this year. Here, in this country, good concerned parents debate the plusses and minuses of getting their children immunized. Deciding for or against immunization is of course a personal decision, but the possible consequences should be kept in mind.

I remember a science fiction story written by my army buddy Isaac Azimov, who became a famous science fiction writer. In the story, all infectious diseases had been eliminated from the earth for some time. This was a great thing, but- no one on earth had immunity from any infectious disease anymore. Interplanetary travel was possible at that time. So, the Earth people had to mount defenses against introduction of any infectious disease by beings from other planets. That would have wiped out the Earth's population.

We will never get to that point, but a serious consideration of H1N1 immunization now that it is available seems to make common sense.

I am sure that deadlines for writing and broadcasts will get out of kilter because of the holidays, so I take this opportunity to wish all of the good people of the West End a happy holiday season. The West End is good at holidays. Enjoy!



West End News Dec.11, 2009

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The shots for the H1N1 flu virus are still available at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais. So far the number of folks showing up for the H1N1 shots has been underwhelming. It is impossible to even guess why our friends and neighbors are not choosing to get the shots. There is no charge for the shots, and you don't need an appointment when the clinic is giving the immunizations.

I would guess that the publicity which encourages people to believe that for most of us the H1N1 is not much worse than a bad cold may be true; but people do die from this virus. Tragically, many of the deaths are young folks. It seems like the incidence of the H1N1 is a lot like the waves in the ocean. There is a surge, and then the waves retreat. There is a high tide and then a low tide. Worldwide this has been the experience with this virus. We could still get hit hard by it.

This H1N1 is serious. I believe our young people need protection. If you are a member of one of the target groups listed by the Department of Health, please protect yourself and others you contact by getting vaccinated. The clinic number is 387-2330.

When I was a school psychologist in the public schools I noticed that a week or so after a major school holiday there was an increase in the number of children and teachers out of school, sick with what is now called "seasonal flu.” This uptick was caused by the fact that during the holiday the school population associated with a lot of different people, distant family members came to visit, people attended holiday celebrations with large crowds, and so forth. The children and staff carried the flu virus back to school when it resumed and about a week later there were lots of sick people.

On a more cheerful note, the community-minded Grand Marais State Bank has set up a challenge gift to the Birch Grove Foundation. I feel this is a great opportunity. More information is available from Jessa at the Foundation office, 663-7977.

Be careful, the traps are in place. Please keep your pets on leash when you go for walks with them. The traps have bait in them, which is attractive to your pet. Each year pets are killed by traps set near paths and roads. These trap placements are legal, so be careful. That is the best solution.

Please remember to tell me about outstanding holiday displays in the West End. I will list them in next week's column and broadcast.


Dave and Amy

West End News Dec. 3, 2009

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We should have expected that the perfect ice on Sawbill Lake would not last, and sure enough the temperature stayed above freezing, the ice melted and for one more year wilderness skating disappeared. Now the temperature is low enough, but snow is falling, which will ruin skating, so get out the cross-country skis.

The Christmas season would not be the same without the familiar Salvation Army red kettles. I can remember the kettles when I was small, and that is a while back. When my grandfather and I saw a kettle he would give me a few coins to put in. He would follow up with a couple of bills. I wonder when the kettles first started.

Once each year the Christian Science Monitor newspaper publishes a special issue about charitable giving. This issue was just published. One of the features of this issue is a list of the 50 largest charities in terms of dollars collected by each charity.

The Salvation Army has the largest income of all the charities. It also has the smallest administrative expense; the lowest paid administrators, and the largest proportion of funds collected spent on the support of the Army's many projects. Every rating agency gives the Salvation Army an A rating, the highest possible rating.

All of this allows me to feel some comfort when I throw my change into the kettle. I feel I know the money will be well used.

Dave Freeman, the founder of the Wilderness Inquiry educational program, and Amy are full of plans for the immediate future. Dave left today to truck equipment and supplies all the way to Inuvit, which is in the far northwestern corner of the Northwest Territories. The trip will take a week both ways. On the way he will drop off supplies and equipment for the trip he and Amy will take next spring as far as Skagway, Alaska. That will be the first part of a multi-year expedition, which will eventually cross the continent. Dave does not think small.

The expedition will start with kayak travel; but will also use dogsled travel and who knows what else. Their most recent trip across South America used custom-built bicycles for part of the trip. Dave and Amy stay in contact with thousands of schoolchildren enrolled in the Wilderness Inquiry program by way of satellite and laptop computer while they are progressing on their trips. The detailed preparation for these trips is awesome.

Remember that I want to list outstanding holiday displays in the West End. Many displays are already in place. Call soon and I will list them in the column that is published at I would like to be called before Dec. 14 so that I may get the list in the column published and broadcast later that week.



West End News Nov. 26, 2009

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A dream situation, which almost never comes true, is when the lakes freeze with a smooth surface and the ice is thick enough to be safe for skating. Right now the surface is perfect on some of the lakes, and we are waiting for the ice to be thick enough to be safe.

Usually good skating only lasts for a few days, then snow ruins the skating; but while it lasts there is nothing like skating as far as time allows on a wilderness lake.

When you plan a skating trip on the lakes good sense tells us that there is no such thing as completely safe ice out on the lakes. It is important to plan for a possible break through the ice by carrying ice picks to help in getting back out if you do suffer a dunking.

These warm temperatures that continue and the lack of snow are pleasant and convenient, but they could be an economic disaster for our snow-related winter businesses. I hear that the warm temperatures have prevented snow making for the downhill folks. Serious training for the mushers is definitely handicapped. The cross-country ski trails are ready and waiting. The snowmobiles are tuned to perfection. Think colder weather with snow.

Conditions can change in just a few hours. Some years ago there was no snow on the ground on Thanksgiving Day. After dinner we took a hike. That night and the next day a foot of snow fell. Campers who chose to take advantage of the mild weather for just one more camping trip were trapped until the snowplows could get the roads opened. So there is always hope.

I had a great time at the fundraiser held by the Birch Grove Foundation at Papa Charlie's. The foundation has developed, year by year, into a front line contributor to the West End community. In my mind, the support extended by the community at the fundraiser shows how highly the foundation is regarded.

Thanks also to Papa Charlie's, all of the volunteers at the dinner and silent auction, the donors of items for the auction, and above all you folks who came to this event. It will happen again next year for sure.

The craft sale at the Schroeder Town Hall, and the gala event across the highway at the Cross River Heritage Center, once again featured the appearance of Mrs. Claus at the heritage center while Santa was at the town hall. It was nice of them to take time out to come to Schroeder at what must be a very busy time for them.

Christmas displays are up already. I would welcome a list of the more elaborate displays in the West End. I will publish the list so we can drive by and enjoy the displays. It is shocking that Christmas is less than a month away.



West End News Nov. 18, 2009

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Polly Erickson, coordinator of the recent blood drive at Zoar church in Tofte, reports that the drive was very successful, once again. The roster was full and there were only two no shows.
Thanks again to Polly for her part in the drive. Setting up the drive is no small thing. Polly does it so well that we don't remember how much it takes for a successful blood drive. The next blood drive will be in the spring sometime.
The lakes are beginning to get their permanent coat of ice. In the recent past there have been skims of ice, which melted as the temperature rose during the day; but now serious icing of the lakes is imminent. Sawbill Lake froze over Monday night, Nov. 16.
This reminds me of an incident that happened on Sawbill Lake some years ago, which turned out well in the end.
Craig Blacklock, the well-known nature photographer, took a picture on Sawbill Lake late in the fall, just a little earlier in November than now. When the film was developed the image was useless because there had been a drop of water on the lens when the picture was taken.
A year later Craig came to Sawbill Lake again to repeat the shot. The picture had to be taken early in the morning, so he camped out overnight. During that night Sawbill Lake froze. The thickness of the ice was too thick to paddle through, but too thin to walk on.
Craig took his picture and by that time figured out a solution to his predicament. He decided to gunwale pump the canoe after a fashion to crack the ice as he went along. This worked, but was very slow. He headed for the shore, and then portaged through the woods to the landing. He was exhausted.
The photo was spectacular, but what an effort for just one picture. I guess that is what makes great photographers great.
Fundraisers have become the norm for non-profits to supplement their income. Between now and Nov. 30, Birch Grove School is raising funds through selling food items. More information can be obtained by stopping by Birch Grove School or calling Tina at 663-0170.
The beautiful weather, with a lot of sun and mild temperatures, clearly belongs to someone else, but we will take it anyway. Enjoy.
This is Frank Hansen at WTIP with the West End News.