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.

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?

Monday, April 10, 2017

First Paddle Of The Spring

The first time for almost anything is usually the best. OK, not quite everything but almost.  

Spring gets in your blood and you have to go, at least, I do.  My wife, who would perhaps prefer to get out one more time on the skate skis on the big lakes that are still icy, agreed to a day of paddling on Friday.  Our choices were few but interesting.  Little Indian Sioux River leading south off the Echo Trail is usually open of ice early and it leads to one of the Boundary Waters most interesting water falls, oddly enough, Sioux Falls.   

With the Minnesota II loaded up on the new Colorado truck for its maiden shuttle, off we went up the Echo.  A quick stop at the entry on the other side of the road, Little Indian Sioux North because that's where the Forest Service latrine is, revealed that we were not the first paddlers out.  Three cars were in the lot headed downstream to Upper and Lower Pauness lakes.   We launched upstream on the flat water of the Sioux R. South headed into a pretty constant breeze in search of spring.  

The ducks were about already.  Common goldeneyes burst into the air in front of us only to wheel back to check us out from a safe height while the less curious ducks like mallards and hooded mergansers just flew out of sight.  Around the  next curve, there they were again ready to bolt as soon as we reappeared.  The meadows bordering the river were quiet still awaiting the warmth of May before coming alive with warblers and sedge wrens and slew pumpers (American bitterns).   A couple hours down range and up stream on the Sioux and the distant roar of the falls fills the air.  

What can be a trickle in summer was a raging torrent on Friday.  Melt water is flowing everywhere into the watershed in April up north.  Snows of January have turned to cold trickles gaining at each confluence until the river is full and overflowing into its leatherleaf and sedge borders.  At the falls it's hard to hear over the roar.  But, out of the wind and in the spring sun and after 2 hours of working into the wind, it was time for lunch.  Nothing like egg salad on 100 ancient grains bread and some of Nancy's homemade pickles.   Followed by another first, the first nap of the spring on the old Seda life vest.

No need to overdo it.  We pack up and head back for the sail to the north with the wind and with whatever current the river offered.  An hour later we're back at the truck satisfied that living up north in the shadow of a great wilderness is always fun and amazing.

 Hope to see you in Ely this summer,

Steve Piragis
The Boundary Waters Catalog