Thursday, April 27, 2017

Glamping with Mary Jane Review

Glamping :)  Glamping with Mary Jane by Mary Jane Butters

At first glance this book looks like a cross between a pin-up poster review and a vintage R.V. advertisement.  Glamour camping has much more to offer as a concept, though.  We sell lightweight gear and canoes for the Boundary Waters and Beyond.  Our bookstore is eclectic!! Our philosophy is not a purist exclusive.  We figure, if "IT" gets you into the woods, then IT is a good thing.  Isn't IT?

Mary Jane Butters has an affinity for the vintage paired with modern sensibilities.  As an antique collector and dealer, I can certainly appreciate her point of view.  She begins with a short history of women in the outdoors and jumps right into trailer shopping and restoration.  M.J. makes it clear that research and more research is key to acquiring and outfitting a new mobile version of your home away from wherever you used to have to be to lay your head on your pillow at night.

Tenting, outdoor bathing, adjusting to small spaces, decorating, ideas, lifestyle, gear, tool kits, safety, maps and more are the waypoints in this GPS of a camping book.  Inevitably leading to some fabulous recipes, which is, lets face it, is the key to what most of us think about when camping or Glamping... Good Food.

And... how to cook it over a campfire.

Activities follow, including Junktiquing and other distractions and excuses to hit the road.  Who doesn't want to reclaim some items from the past and give them your own flair and flavor n'route to the next International Glamping Weekend?

You might find yourself wondering why this book is on our list and so I'll repeat myself.  If reading it gets you outside and sleeping under the stars then you are one step closer to braving the wilds of the Boundary Waters.  And... one step closer to a visit to the Canoe Capital of the World... Ely, Minnesota.  Besides that, I like the restoration of old things, even trailers, and, I like the restoration of some old ways of thinking.

Namely that camping can be an eventful lifestyle - a celebration - at all levels instead of a difficult endurance exercise.  Roughing IT has its place, but being comfortable and happy outdoors is never overrated.

One more thing.  The book is fun.

Tim Stouffer
the Boundary Waters Catalog

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Keep your eyes Peeled

Lee Johnson is the Heritage Program Manager for the Superior National Forest.  He's also a friend of ours who at one time worked with us here at Piragis.  He recently gave a talk here in town at the Grand Ely Lodge during one of our Tuesday Group meetings.

These meetings take place every Tuesday over the lunch hour and everyone who's interested are welcome to come. We have guest speakers and the subjects vary from who's newly moved to town and their personal introductions, to antique history and appraisals, to natural history and preservation to Ely area current events, to politics, to... well you name it.  It is great way to have lunch with others and connect and to learn about many things in person, that you probably have some connection with, but don't know too much about.

Lee was working on a project in the forest that is about to have the results published.  Travelers and members of the Forest Service have begin to discover what Native American canoe builders knew already existed.  Bark-Peeled Pine that dot the Border Lakes Region of Minnesota and Ontario.  What made these marks and why?  That was the topic of the study and the talk.

These are not the triangular fire scars that are widest at ground level, these are usually head or chest high and terminate at waist or knee level.  They profile deep tree wounds with large "healing lobes" and are most often present on Red Pines, though also on Jack Pines and occasional White Pines.  The theory presented by Lee was very interesting and rather easy to subscribe to based on the discovery and historical documentation that he provided. Native Americans most likely made these marks to collect Pitch for Gum that was used to build and repair birchbark canoes.  This pitch and gum was an integral part of the fur trade era.  Indeed, without it, your canoe would begin to fall apart and sink.

These Bark Peeled Pines are clues to the glue that held the culture of the fur-trade together and date back to the mid-18th century.  Each year we lose some of these ancient trees to age and storms, so preservation of these uncovered stories may depend on written record alone as time goes on.  It was a fascinating presentation and I've duplicated the brochure here for you:

If Birchbark Canoes interest you, you will enjoy Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard Chapelle with a forward by John McPhee.  Lee referenced it several times during his presentation and it has been a perennial best seller for us since we began incorporating great books into our retail store in 1979.  An interesting read and a fantastic resource.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book of the Week Manitou Canyon by William Kent Krueger

I like the Cork O'Connor series of mystery books by William Kent Krueger quite a bit.  More importantly, for myself, I like Krueger quite a bit.  I've met him twice, both times in Ely.  He's been here at Piragis for a book signing and reading and he's been to our new Ely Library.  At the time of his last visit Manitou Canyon was about to be released and I got my hands on an advanced reader's copy.  It didn't disappoint.

 Buy Here

Everyone loves a good car chase in a movie and Krueger delivers on some great canoe chases in the wilderness.  There's something about a wilderness mystery that includes danger from humans that moves the story even more fluidly forward (and sideways) through an already wild environment.  Add in the unknown approach of Winter's grip and after just a few pages (paragraphs really) the reader wishes they had the whole day to spend in the midst of this story.

Perhaps the real reason that William Kent Krueger finds his novels on the New York Times Bestsellers list is because he naturally slips in between the pages of his stories.  Ordinary Grace won the Edgar Award for Best Novel and many think this stand alone book holds some of his greatest work.  Fans of the world that Cork finds himself in, the land of the Superior National Forest, Boundary Waters and Beyond, though, find themselves connected in very personal ways to Krueger's cast of characters.  His unabashed efforts to incorporate social problems that face us all but women and Native Americans in particular deliver a punch to our reality gut that can't be ignored. This writer takes the time to know the land and the people he writes about.  The fact that these stories are woven into the fabric of our own backyard makes our paths cross in ways that other books can't.  We find ourselves walking and paddling the same routes, capturing the same sights and smells around the campfire with O'Connor.

In person he is generous with his time (he's taken a few minutes each time I've met him to discuss with me the pages of my own novel in the works).  He is engaging and honest about his path to success and the power of story.  He's also committed to the story itself.  Oh, and he's generous with his time.  Yes, I repeated that because I would encourage you to attend a reading and signing if he is scheduled to appear in a local bookstore near you.  The talk and question and answer sessions are worth the time!

If you've been looking for a good series that won't fail to entertain, don't miss out on Krueger, he won't let you down.  And... you don't have to start at the beginning.  Give Manitou Canyon a try!

"Manitou Canyon 
by William Kent Krueger
Since the violent deaths of his wife, father, and best friend all occurred in previous Novembers, Cork O’Connor has always considered it to be the cruelest of months. Yet, his daughter has chosen this dismal time of year in which to marry, and Cork is understandably uneasy.

His concern comes to a head when a man camping in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness goes missing. As the official search ends with no recovery in sight, Cork is asked by the man’s family to stay on the case. Although the wedding is fast approaching and the weather looks threatening, he accepts and returns to that vast wilderness on his own."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Thoughts When Looking at the Stuart River Entry Point

Entry Point No. 19 Stuart River by Todd Burras - Piragis Northwoods Company

For all those who have been privileged to set foot in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, nearly all have memories of not just placid campsites and pristine waters, but also something less inviting: portage trails. These ancient paths cut through the forest and serve as primitive escape routes for eager paddlers seeking temporary emancipation from civilization and its seemingly frenetic treadmill of endless running, playing, working and worrying.

All portages are not created equal, though. Some can be short, flat and relatively free of rocks, tree roots and wet spots. In many cases, however, portages can be long -- a quarter-mile is normal; a half-mile or more common -- and arduous, requiring paddlers to pack their gear and canoes over and through rugged terrain that includes steep inclines, rocks and boulders, downed trees, water, mud and frequent clouds of insects. No matter the fear, frustration or even hardship these well-worn thoroughfares have produced, paddlers know that they are just a temporary means to a usually glorious end: fish fries and shore lunches, warm campfires and laughing loons, distant wolf howls under an aurora night sky, and most of all: happy, serene memories.

Have you added your footprints to the stone, soil, tree roots and mosses that make up these hallowed portage trails? This summer will you add your name and write your own chapter in this unending wilderness story? The trails, rivers and lakes within the BWCAW await your arrival.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

North Shore Road Trip

Monday was a day off for Easter break for my kids and so we hit the road.  Jen and the girls headed one direction and Simon and I headed into the wind, for the North Shore of Lake Superior.  Down Highway One out of Ely, into the teeth of an April "snowstorm".  The flakes were huge and the further we drove, the more evidence of snow could be seen on the branches of the pines and forest floor.  It was April, though, so 95 percent of it wasn't destined to last the hour, let alone, the day.

We turned off of Highway One and onto Two on our way towards Two Harbors.  Easy on the directions, easy on the eyes.  We stopped at two points of interest on our way through the forest and the surrounding lowlands.  One was a little public access to a roadside lake and one was a forest service picnic area.

This particular spot has a sign titled, "Sentinels of the Past" and shares the fact that these old White Pines were already 70 years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.  Standing under them, with the last evidence of of winter desperately clinging to their branches I couldn't help but notice a chill running up my spine.  They are survivors and they are a constant reminder that the forest around us is a living, breathing organism.  It isn't simply a place to enjoy, it is, very much so, a part of our home that has a much longer history than we do.

How many have stood under these trees?  How many have stood there with their sons who are now men and are making preparations for college.  What kind of lessons could be learned with time enough to sit on a fallen pine that has been in this place for 300 years or more?  It was a quiet morning under the clouds and a perfect beginning to our road trip.

Ely is a great spot to visit and to kick off your Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness trips.  It has a lot to offer, including spending time around town and our area before and/or after your canoe trips.  The North Shore is less than two hours of driving that could include multiple wildlife sitings like moose and more!  Our bookstore manager, Jordyn, saw a moose the day before we drove down Highway One and so did Drew Brockett, our canoe trip outfitting manager.  Here's a shot of the one he saw on Sunday.

We continued our trip, down to Two Harbors and took a left to check out how the waters of Gitche Gumee were breaking against the shore and the Split Rock Lighthouse.  Driving through massive tunnels in the granite, pulling over at various rivers and rest stops, listening to music on the winding road.  Everything combined for a fantastic soundtrack to the best movie I've seen in years, right through the windows of the Mountaineer.  Best of all, whenever we wanted, we could park and walk right into the environment all around us.

The black sandy beach filled with battered and softened rocks and driftwood, the bike paths, the cold spray in our faces and the snowflakes that were by this time fading in their strength, these things woke me up to the beauty of Spring and the ice-out season.

We turned around at some point and headed to Duluth for lunch.  Afterwards, we returned by the Scenic North Shore route and stopped to experience anything that caught our eyes.  The sun had come out and the blue of the sky was now reflected in the big waters of our inland sea.

It was hard to leave...