Friday, June 9, 2017

Moments in Polaroids: Lines from the Boundary Waters and Beyond


Moments in Polaroids

Remember when you’d stand there
shaking the film as it developed from a grey
ghost slipping through the shadow world,
like a walleye
rising up through
tannin stained waters,
desperate to stay
hidden but
pulled uncontrollably
towards the surface that
tensioned between
you and I.


Little by little the granular
surface would appear
underneath colors
that couldn’t quite
be explained. Then we’d
shove our eye into
that rubber socketed
viewfinder again and
shift the sun to the
left while crossing
our fingers. While missing
the larger, contagious
beauty?


If only this touches
the memory of this moment
just a fraction, sets the hook,
I can reel in the rest of
it years from
now when we dig
through a dusty box
forgotten in the attic.


Remember when we spent
more time making the
memory than recording it?

Let’s do that again.
Let’s do
that now.


©Timothy James Stouffer 06082017
All Rights Reserved Ely, Minnesota

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Poem: Separation Lines from the Boundary Waters and Beyond


Separation

There’s a line that the wilderness
draws behind each of us
a little distance from Ely.
Whether by stream, river or lake
as our canoes slip
over it,
pulled by paddle stroke
and the desire to find more than
our own reflection in the
Boundary Waters.


This line when crossed can
never be returned from,
can’t be uncrossed.

Though it is invisible, almost everyone
I know can recall the moment
they entered the other side.
The side where our previous selves
began to fade and our
canoe camping self began to pulsate,
like the oldest coals of our
campfires.

The afternoon sun burnt off the rest of the shadows
as we paddled on,
not stopping until we blended into
the darkness and the branches
of the pines and cedars
reached out over the water
to welcome us home.

©Timothy James Stouffer 06052017
All Rights Reserved Ely, Minnesota

If you like the poetry we publish here and on social media you might like to check out a recent Zine created by Simon and Tim Stouffer who work at Piragis Northwoods Company.  Pronounced "ZEEENE" like Maga-zine, a zine is a self published, small run of artwork and/or prose.  This particular zine was actually printed locally at Ely Design Works on high quality paper to showcase the 20 black and white photos taken by Simon.  Accompanying the photos are original poems by Tim Stouffer.  The content was inspired by their day together along the North Shore early this Spring.

Here's a link:  https://www.boundarywaterscatalog.com/tim-stouffer/day-one-a-zine-by-tim-and-simon-stouffer-159648



Father's Day Special Blade from Helle: Godbit

Each year the good folks at Helle Knives release a special edition model for Father's Day.  This year their knife is the Godbit.

HAPPY FATHER's DAY!

This year's model is the "Godbit" which means "goodie" or "treat".  This model was originally produced in the 1990s and was designed by Gunnar Lothe. The pommel knob on the end anchors the knife in place by securing the knife via the sheath tab (similar to the Helle Harding model).

Handle : Curly birch, 4.53 inches long
Blade : Triple layer steel, 4 inches long
Includes: Genuine leather black sheath
Total weight : 6.07 ounces


WE CURRENTLY HAVE THE GODBIT on SALE  Was $144

Now $129.99

Click the image below to purchase at the Boundary Waters Catalog!


Poem: Grandparents Lines from the Boundary Waters and Beyond


Grandparents
(Poetry from the Boundary Waters and Beyond)

This day ending with its sentinels
of pine pointing towards the
setting sun could have
meant anything,
anywhere,
to
anyone.

But,
to you and
I under the tarp near
the glowing coals of the fire,
it meant sore muscles, blistered
hands and one of the best tasting
dinners I've eaten out of a
pouch in forever.
Well, what
wouldn't
taste

Fabulous
when paired with
lake trout picked up while
trolling towards this point on
the island that gifted us a view of
our own private lake?  This
moment is why I wish
I would have
listened
to you
be

fore, when you told me that we could still find ourselves in the boundary waters canoe area wilderness, even at our age, even having forgotten more about camping than most young people ever imagined they'd learn thank goodness for the air mattress and the forty four pound kevlar canoe.

It is never too late
to remember.

©Timothy James Stouffer 05252017
All Rights Reserved Ely, MN

Monday, May 22, 2017

Quetico Spring Fishing with Adam Macht

I just got back from a week-long trip into Quetico.  We did some exploring but spent the bulk of the trip fishing on Argo and McIntrye.  The lake trout fishing was fantastic.  Our best success came trolling crank baits that dove 15’ – 30’ (my favorite was the Rapala Deep Diving Tail Dancer).
A lure with a white or silver flash seemed to be most effective.  I had good response with a Norman Shad lure as well.  There were times throughout the trip that a jig with a 4” white minnow (artificial) was very productive.  We had plenty of fish to eat!  Interestingly, in one of the fish we caught to eat, it’s belly was full of flying ants (I should have taken a picture!!).  I had never seen this before.  They must have been coming to the surface to pick the ants off the water.  It was unique, and might explain why the bite was a little slower that day.

Argo Lake 
Foggy Morning on McIntyre

Morning on Argo

Solo sunrise on McIntyre


Overall, the trip was great.  We had great campsites on Argo and McIntyre, and the only canoe we saw was a family of 4 with 2 small kids.  It was so quiet and peaceful, and it is always fun to spend a week with good friends in Quetico.  I hope you get a chance to get out and enjoy this beautiful wilderness up here!

Adam Macht
Piragis Outfitting
800-223-6565

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

SPRING WEEK IN QUETICO

Spring Trout Trip              

When four adult, slightly past middle age, guys, get together for a camping trip you know there will lots of jokes, jabs and jabbering.  The great thing about a boyz trip to the Quetico for lake trout is the chance to be little boys again or a primitive hunting party or some combination thereof.   At these ripe ages there less bragging and less muscle testing and a lot more dependence of each other and modesty, the result of what little wisdom that has been gained over so many years.  All for the better to have more fun,  take fewer portages and prepare a few good meals that men have garnered from years of watching their wives. 



This was a laid back, no worries about catching a lot of fish and happy to be out, kind of trip we did last week to the fabled North Bay of Basswood Lake in Quetico Park.   It was the week before fishing opener in Minnesota and two weeks before the same in Ontario.  Lake Trout is the only species that we could keep that were in season.   When we caught a smallmouth bass and a walleye, both handsome specimens, they had to go right back in the lake.   The lakers were playing hard to get on us.  We trolled a lot of water at different depths and saw some great scenery, absorbed too much solar radiation on the hands, ears and nose but rarely had to reel up lunker lakers.   Actually, there were no lunkers caught last week.  The bay was cold and calm most of the 5 days we were there but she was pretty stingy with the red fleshed trout. 



When a lake trout was landed it was meant for the pan and the meals were exceptional.   I made a first for me; trout tacos.   It was just snap decision while hiking the isles of Zup’s grocery in Ely the day before the trip to buy cole slaw mix and dressing and some real big soft taco shells.   I just breaded strips of trout cut off the filets and fast fried them laying them in the taco with some fried cubed potatoes and onion topped with juicy cole slaw.  It seemed to be a hit among the four men cooking around the campfire.    One of my chums for another trout dinner baked his filets over the fire in aluminum foil with butter and onions; another big success story for the guys.   We spent time contemplating how much water to use for oatmeal and whether or not the pork loin over the fire was cooked enough or if a little pink was now ok to serve America’s other white meat.   With the occasional sip of box wine from a plastic bag details of cooking were more easily worked out.  




Perhaps the most solemn moment of the trip was the scattering of the ashes of one of our fathers who passed away recently.  Jack was a friend to all, a great hockey coach and a bit of an old curmudgeon but renowned for his unique expressions and liberal use of language that would be bleeped out on TV.   Not that Jack was on TV but he a star to those of us who knew him.  If you knew Jack you always smiled when his name was mentioned.  He did some fishing up north and he loved to visit Ely with his wife Ann to see what their son was doing now to live the life of a modern entrepreneur woodsman.  Like father, like son, Steve managed to scatter a few choice words in every conversation we had last week.  It’s a loose group when the men that are still boys at heart, make a trip to the woods to catch lake trout in spring.   Enjoy the photos and come up soon. 


Monday, May 15, 2017

Mother's Day and Fishing Opener -- Adventures in Ely

This past weekend were two of my favorite days of the year.  For once, Saturday, came without snow, without hail, without a blustery windy, rainy day that was more about what rain gear to put on that would allow for multiple warm layers underneath than fishing. It was a pleasant day. So of course, that meant that I ultimately had other plans.

One of my fishing partners had to travel to Virginia, Minnesota mid-day to finish up her last hour of behind-the-wheel-driving so that she can take her driver's test as close to five minutes after she turns sixteen as possible.  My oldest daughter is all about fishing, just like her mother.  Her younger sister is also one of those people who will sit in a canoe or ankle deep in water for hours as long as they are biting.

Sure I had a couple of friends that had asked me to hit the water for opener, but I'd promised Lucy that I'd fish first with her, and so, I took the day to work on my novel.  Writing went well enough and all and all it was a relaxing day in which I solved some problems, gained some ground on character development and discovered something I'd been hoping to find.

That evening we went to an early graduation party for one of my son's friends and the next morning was church.  After that Lucy, Juliet and I changed clothes, loaded up the gear and canoe, stopped at the bait store for supplies and headed out.  We needed to be back before five to get started on dinner for Mother's Day.

The sun was out and there was a breeze that pushed us around a little bit, but most often let us be.  The water isn't very warm due to quite a few nights in the twenties, but it isn't just a few degrees above freezing any longer either.  We had sustained ourselves with a quick lunch just before leaving and I have to admit that with the warmth of the sun on my face I was perfectly comfortable just lounging in the stern seat of our Wenonah Champlain.



We had our lines out and the girls spent time between bites to add laughter to the lake.  For some reason Lucy and I repeatedly over cast nearly every time we threw towards the shore.  Probably over zealous after a long winter :) and so we ended up tangled in a few branches and bushes.  That only contributed to the hilarity.  It didn't take long though for her to land the first fish of the season.  On Mother's Day.

Well before that I felt like I'd achieved my goals.  Sitting there in the canoe, peering down through clear water, I felt like Spring had finally arrived.  With the sound of strong wings beating the air a wood duck landed on a house attached to a dead spire of cedar rising up out the lake bottom about 6 feet from my end of the canoe.  She disappeared inside and it was about that time that we too, felt the pull towards home and dinner and the celebration of MOM.

I pulled up that anchor, we stowed our lures, hooks, and rods and put our paddles to water.  Pulling through the cold water it was hard to imagine that just a little while ago we'd have been walking out here.  Up ahead though, shot up two of the clearest signs that the season had changed for good... a pair of loons surfaced, stark white markings against black so deep in color that it takes on purple and green coloring.  Sleek, young, streamlined.  Up close, only a few feet from the canoe, I'm taken with just how beautiful they are each time I see them.  One after the other, they dove underneath the surface and with powerful kicks from their legs glided past.  Every detail was visible in the clear water and their white spots seemed to glow until they surfaced again twenty yards away.

I wanted to stay, but the blackflies had arrived as well, and so we climbed out, grabbed everything and Lucy took off down the trail with the canoe on her shoulders.  Just like when Simon was a very little boy, Juliet now voiced what always comes to mind.  Walking behind, it looked like Lucy wore a giant yellow hat.

Olive bread and barbecued chicken awaited and the giving and receiving of gifts for the two moms in my life.  My wife and my mom.  As Simon would later post, "GOAT" -- the Greatest Of All Time!



Happy Mothers Day to all you moms and Guys, if you spent all weekend fishing, you missed out.

Peace, Tim Stouffer, Piragis Northwoods Company.

Update on Foss Lake Prescribed Burn May 15, 2017



Reviews are Appreciated and Certainly Important

It's great when you log onto your computer on Monday morning and find out that someone else has taken the time to feature you on their guide site.

http://brownsguides.com/boundary-waters-canoe-area-paddling/?platform=hootsuite

It's also great when you see without any prompting at all except our excellent customer service and selection of gear that one of our customers takes it upon themselves to share their satisfaction.

Raymond did that on Facebook... here's what he had to say, "I love Piragis Northwoods Company. "

We can't agree more.

If you'd like to review our Canoe Trip Outfitting department we invite you to do so on our Facebook page or Trip Advisor.

We'd also like to encourage all of you to write reviews of products that you've purchased from the Boundary Waters Catalog on their individual product pages.  It only takes a short amount of time, lets us hear your feedback and helps other canoe campers and outdoor enthusiasts make decisions about products that you enjoy!  We promise it is easy and fast and we check everyday to see if there are reviews ready to be posted.  To avoid spam and inappropriate language the reviews have a short waiting period, so don't worry when they don't appear right after you enter them, it usually takes 24 - 48 hours to post.

Thanks Everyone!  Your feedback is important to us and we sure appreciate your reviews.  In today's online driven marketing world, it is very important for customers to be given the opportunities to review products and interact with our company via social media.  We realize for some of you that's not your cup of tea, but we also realize that the majority of us always turn to reviews when we are shopping for any products online.  We have so many great ones that have stood the test of time over the years that we'd just as soon like you our best customers to speak for them.  You use them, you recommend them by word of mouth, and now you can do so online.

Thanks, from Your Friends in the Great Northwoods,

Piragis Northwoods Company and the Boundary Waters Catalog

Friday, May 5, 2017

What does Hegman Lake look like in the Winter?

Have you ever wanted to walk on water?  Visit the pictographs on a windswept day?  Or perhaps you've just wondered what the northland looked like during winter.  We visited one of our favorite (and many of yours) places this winter.

We thought you'd like to see Hegman Lake in March.

If there are other places you'd like to see or things you wonder about around the Ely area and our favorite wilderness, please comment below and let us know.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Poem Silhouetted by Timothy James Stouffer


Silhouetted

Against the last of Winter’s 
remnant, pines strike
a pose familiar.  When 
the skies wouldn’t stop
weeping but couldn’t
agree on flakes or tears,
the sun, brief and frustrated,
settled the matter.

A signature on that first
day of May that fleeting
formed a question mark
in the second morning
and inquiried of us all.  What
do we think
the shadows keep?
Who might the 
light reveal with
its brush under the boughs?

Sifting through the slush
of sunrise, my fingers grow
cold and numb
searching by feel in the thick darkness
for the words to our song
that began with Spring
but has lost itself
against the reflection
of the reaching
Red Pines.

Where is it that the path
leads us two from here?
Like some darkened maw
swallowing the borders
marked so carefully
on the map we hold.

©Timothy James Stouffer 05/02/2017

All Rights Reserved Ely, Minnesota



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...






Friday, April 14, 2017

Lost Among the Pages of Lost Among the Birds Book Review

What if life took you on a year long journey where every moment was like a grain of sand sifting through a giant hourglass and in the recesses of your mind you could hear the hands of the clock ticking closer to... but none of that mattered because even though time was winding down, the quest, and the journey and the relationship with our winged neighbors drew you deeper and deeper after an unmistakably exciting goal?


"This book came to me from a friend who is only a very casual birder on vacation trips. She and her friend who is even less of an avid birder both recommend it. As a avid birder for, wow, 50 years now I was skeptical. Let it be said that I was judging the book by its advocates and, wow again, was I wrong. I loved it and got so tied up reading it in my usual reading spot, the tub, I think I over soaked again. My wife and I actually used the authors list of birds from his "Big Year" in the back of the book to search out and find birds in Arizona last month.

I find myself wanting to go to remote Attu Island now this summer; one spot even the author missed in 2013. "Lost" is funny, insightful and just plain fun to read if you're a life long birder or, as my friends have proven, even if you just appreciate the occasional sighting out the kitchen window or on the ferry to Nantucket. Read it, you'll see."  -- Steve Piragis

by Neil Hayward
Early in 2013 Neil Hayward was at a crossroads. He didn't want to open a bakery or whatever else executives do when they quit a lucrative but unfulfilling job. He didn't want to think about his failed relationship with "the one" or his potential for ruining a new relationship with "the next one." And he almost certainly didn't want to think about turning forty. And so instead he went birding.

Birding was a lifelong passion. It was only among the birds that Neil found a calm that had eluded him in the confusing world of humans. But this time he also found competition. His growing list of species reluctantly catapulted him into a Big Year--a race to find the most birds in one year. His peregrinations across twenty-eight states and six provinces in search of exotic species took him to a hoarfrost-covered forest in Massachusetts to find a Fieldfare; to Lake Havasu, Arizona, to see a rare Nutting's Flycatcher; and to Vancouver for the Red-flanked Bluetail. Neil's Big Year was as unplanned as it was accidental: It was the perfect distraction to life.

Neil shocked the birding world by finding 749 species of bird and breaking the long-standing Big Year record. He also surprised himself: During his time among the hummingbirds, tanagers, and boobies, he found a renewed sense of confidence and hope about the world and his place in it.


We hope you'll enjoy this book as much as we did and remember that you can find it online at The Boundary Waters catalog along with thousands of other titles or here in our upstairs bookstore the next time you visit Ely, Minnesota and Piragis Northwoods Company.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Walk in the Woods


The green city population sign near the David Dill Taconite Trail on Highway One, doesn’t tell the whole story.  First, Ely’s population seems to ebb and flow with the seasons and because the snowbirds leave before the white stuff arrives and return after it leaves our waistline grows after the ice retreats.  Second, on the edge of town, in the middle of town, and definitely in the Superior National Forest that surrounds our little hamlet, wildlife is abundant and surprisingly not too shy.

We’ve seen lynx in town, deer on a regular basis, wolves on the outer streets, small mammals (or smammals) are commonplace.  I’m sure at some point in the not to distant past a moose or two has sauntered across the city lines.  On our honeymoon, my wife and I were shopping at what was then Hill’s Wilderness Canoe Outfitters and a yearling black bear sidled right into the side door and raised himself up on a rack of paddling shirts.  Jen turned to the cashier and asked, “Does he shop here often?”

We share this space with those of four feet, not to mention the wide variety of avian neighbors that we have.  It is one of the things that makes Ely and the Boundary Waters a wonderful place to call home.  

The Taconite Trail knifes through the edge of Ely and bisects both Highway One and Highway 21 on the other side.  It is trafficked most during winter months as a snowmobile trail and as I walked it last night, it sported ATV tracks.  At this time of year about half of it is dry, a quarter is soft and another quarter is wet.  The wet parts vary from ankle deep or deeper water that is pure ice melt and about 39 degrees to liquid mud.  I wore running shoes and broke through ice several times to fill them with water.





Early spring in Ely always holds on to snow and ice patches in the woods mostly due the protective shade from the trees.  Unless a trail is wide and on high ground and doesn’t have tall trees overhead, snow and ice will prevail for weeks to come.  We’re still dropping down into the low thirties and high twenties at night and have yet to climb steadily out of the mid fifties during the day.

The Taconite is a rolling up and down walk for much of its course and meanders through a variety of woodland trees dotted with granite outcroppings and a few wide open meadow spaces.  Towards the edge of the city limits over by Highway One, the trail intersects the burn area from a couple of years ago when a power line fell and ignited a fire that threatened to advance to homes.  In the end that fire was responsible for taking out one or two outbuildings on private property, but no homes.  Through a timely, skilled and valiant effort, Ely was saved by fire fighters and fire fighter pilots!

I was walking hard, exercising, for most of the trail, but I did take some time to smell the roses or swamp fringes as it were.  And.  Time. To. Listen.  The birds were out enjoying the extended sunlight.  I heard distinctly a powerful stamping of a large dear, probably a doe, but because everything around was a dull mud brown, I couldn’t spot her amidst the red of the ash saplings and the brown of the red pine trunks.  The hummocks of grass hid the few frogs that called out with high reaching belches of sounds so close to the small bird calls that it was hard to tell them apart.  The robins were back.  Two days before on the same trail, Jen spotted a secretive beaver.

I wished at this point that I'd brought along a book that my boss, Steve Piragis, just reviewed.  Lost Among the Birds.  It'd be a relaxing cap to the evening to sit and read while the sun went down, but it was getting colder and I needed to move on.



I discovered a couple of piles of wolf scat.  From then on I felt (no, not followed) but at home.  Like I’d made it far enough into the wild to enjoy the new sun on my back and the sounds of nature all around, that didn’t include civilization powered chainsaws, cars or music.  The music up ahead was some of the most beautiful and original ever heard.  Never the same score, always a new melody with running water.  Water flowing over root and rock.  In this case water that had carved out a valley for itself under a frozen patch of snow.



video

It was the kind of place I’d have liked to stay for hours as a kid.  Floating leaf boats and twigs through the tunnel and out into the wetlandish lowland marsh on the other side.  It would be a good place to sit and journal or appreciate the sunset.  I left it after a brief respite knowing that the next time I walked this trail it would be transformed into just another muddy patch across my path.

There are places in the world where everything comes close to staying the same.  Ely isn’t one of them.  Here we are always in flux.  “If you don’t like the weather,” my Grandfather used to say, “wait a moment.” (and you might not like that either)  Northern Minnesota keeps things interesting.  Which is one of the reasons there’s always something new the locals are talking about when you arrive to visit. 

What happens when you escape to the wilder areas though, still remains the same, though varied in our perception and experience.  Just a few steps or paddle strokes away from everyone else it is inevitable that you will find a freedom of spirit, a lightening of your load as stress is lifted off your shoulders.  Truth.  Sometimes it is replaced by a heavy portage pack, but that is a burden we gladly take upon ourselves.  One that makes each day more fulfilling when we slip it off at the end of the day or part way down the trail to lean upon and reflect how real this all is, and how it is worth protecting no matter the cost.

That’s where my trail took me, where does yours lead?


Followers