Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Bear and the SRAT at Northwind Lodge

Right in the middle of frying some Jasper Lake sunnies that my dad gave me, I looked out to find the insolent Cookie (who refused to come inside) barking her round, stubborn, Pekingese head off at a nice-sized bear who was wandering into my view from the brush. The bear grabbed a chokecherry tree in front of the main doors of Red Rock and began daintily eating away at the nice plump cherries, deftly and efficiently stripping them off their stems. If it weren't for the dog ratcheting up the anti-bear rhetoric, I would have simply let him eat peacefully. After all, I was right in the middle of wrapping up the last batch of crispy fillets, flame on, oil hot. Of course, Cookie wasn't about to back down from a 200 lb. bear who was simply being a bear and not bothering anybody. She became more bellicose and started to approach the pitch black invader with the indignant, chest-forward stance of Pekingese determination and bravado. This bear was going down.

"Sure. Isn't THAT special!", I'm thinking. Cookie, you just can't back off from the bear for just another two lousy minutes while my fish get done! As she approaches, he begins to move and so do I. I shut off the burner so I don't light the house on fire, and call for "back up", I did, To prevent Cookie from becoming the furred snack of an avowed wild omnivore, I tell Delilah to get the bear, and down the basement steps we barreled full blast. In those 3 seconds it took me to get to the walkout door, I told Delilah again to "get the bear!" and noted that Cookie actually managed to turn him up the drive way. His slow pace took off into a trot when a crazy little brown animal took off after him, snarling and barking with tail up rigid and back fur pointing to the sky. The bear must have thought, "Wow - that's a scary rabbit!" and "Since when do rabbits bark!!!!?" He bolted into the woods and both mini-defenders of Northwind Lodge wisely stopped at the road's edge, neither being crazy enough to fight the bear on his own turf.  

The bear a few minutes later, then appeared at my mom & dad's house. He was tall and well-proportioned. My mom called and I finished eating quickly (never can take my time-ever in the resort business) and brought the Scary Rabbit Attack Team (SRAT) with me. The bear was already gone in the 6 seconds it took me to cover that distance. Delilah nonetheless put on a show of speed, agility, and bear-scaring prowess as she smelled the air and ground that he walked on barking wildly. Cookie stood like a barrel-chested avenger and let out the occasional bark of righteous indignation. My dad then called them both into the house for bear-attacking treats and praise, but neither was all that interested. The adrenaline was running high and the bear was still out there...somewhere.

I'm got ready to go out and boldly light the Wednesday evening campfire at the waterfall. Looked like it was going to rain but it didn't. Both dogs remained snoozing indoors in the afterglow of an exhausting evening defending all that is right and good for the sake of Northwind Lodge.

At the fire, I heard from Hank in Cabin 7 that after he and his wife ate dinner, he was sitting on the deck reading when he looked up from his book to notice a bear standing about two feet from him. The bear was close enough to reach out and pat on the head. Hank jumped up and yelled which made Hank's dog jump up and yell from inside the cabin in response. Hank's wife Eileen came running from the inside to see what was going on outside. With all that commotion, the bear took off to the ash trees at the back end of the cabin. Positioned like a big letter V, the bear stepped up into the crotch of the two large trees and posed briefly like a centerfold model in a men's magazine. I think he was startled by Hank's golden retriever or maybe, Hank. Then the bear got out of the V and faded into the brush, Hank finally caught his breath. He said he's never been that close to a bear before.

One of the guests from Cabin 6, Joseph, observed that same bear on the back deck of Cabin 8, over at Cabin 5 raiding their garbage can, and by Cabins 4 and 3. The bear was covering some ground this evening. Hopefully, the bear will go away on his own. Unfortunately, he's not looking like he's extremely bothered by people which can be a problem. Fortunately, we have the SRAT. I may have to release the hounds yet again, tonight. After driving a 9 hour, 460 mile round trip to Atikokan, Ontario to pick up two new Souris River Canoes, it's been a long day.
I'm going to bed. Hopefully, so will the bear.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Bit of the History of the Canoe Capital of the World - on a Painted Canoe

Two young guys just came in looking for tackle before their canoe trip. (Woohoo! Somebody younger than age 30 going on a canoe trip! Don't see that very often these days!) Unfortunately, we did not have what they were seeking, but they decided to wander around the store a bit.  

They noticed the Painted Canoe of Ely and ended up circling it three times. One guy told his friend "this is the coolest thing I think I've ever seen."  

Then they turned to me and asked who painted it and I told them it was me.  

The next questions asked were about the resorts that used to be on Basswood, and where the logging train was located and why the Grumman Hellcat was on the bow deck plate and how many hours it took me to paint. One guy asked me if I knew about a resort that was a huge building and had flagstones remaining on the campsite today. I did. I lead him to Maple Leaf Lodge on the port side of the canoe. He actually recognized the little terraced walls that remain crumbling on the actual site, today. He and I both exchanged notes separated by almost thirty years and concurred that this specific site was nice but incredibly full of mosquitoes. Some things never change.  

Maple Leaf Lodge in 1948 on Basswood Lake - Boundary Waters

The other guy said it was "so great" that for the first time ever, he was able to visually comprehend the past history of the region known today as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. He said that he's seen bits and pieces but never was able to tie it all together as there is not a lot of information out there. One would need to read a bunch of different books and form a mental conclusion and while that is fun for some, it's less appealing to even me. After all, most are not seeking a PhD in BWCA history, but a simple greater understanding would be nice. Based on the comments thus far on the historical side of the canoe, I do believe I've accomplished that.
Our conversation ended with one of the guys taking pictures with his smart phone. Then onto their journey they continued, thanking me for the opportunity on the way out. It was a good experience for me as well.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Painted Canoes and Worn Out Shoes

Just met a soft-spoken, unemployed civil engineer who, five years ago, decided that sitting around worrying about his lack of employment due to the "Depression' was not getting him anywhere so he started to walk across the country.
He's walked the eastern seaboard from Key West to Canada, some Pacific trail and several others. He was now walking from Missouri (his home and where his wife is located) to New York following trails and connecting roads. He had one midsized pack on his back and a couple of hiking poles with some serious miles on them.
I wanted to find out if he was a little nuts because he looked a little light in gear for the Kekekabic trail which is a four-day adventure in rugged terrain.  I had recently spoken with a deputy sheriff from Lake County who had to go in a few weeks ago to rescue two guys who only brought with them a battery operated GPS (and no map or compass!!!) which they lost by dropping it when crossing a fast-running creek.   It was fresh in my mind what can befall someone on the Kek trail when they get lost or the weather goes south quickly.  I didn't want to see another guy get himself in trouble, hence the reason for my questioning his preparedness and mental state.  I figured I could always call the sheriff's department once he was out the door and they could catch him.
After a bit of conversational questioning and general Iron Range nosiness, I found out that he refers to the current recession as the Depression and doesn't believe it is actually merely a recession.  I also saw that he had the correct maps and a smartphone.  He claimed he had a satellite emergency notification system (like a Spot), a GPS and plenty of food tucked in that pack.  He sounded sensible, not overly certain, and quite capable.  It was after all that when I found out he was a civil engineer by trade.
The Painted Canoe of Ely
The Painted Canoe of Ely
I mentioned that "my walk across the country" was in that canoe resting upright on sawhorses before him.  I explained that with the depression and increased competition for even less discretionary dollars, retail business slowed down in our store so dramatically that starting last June I fell back to my one ability that nobody can take from me.  That would be my ability to paint.  I pointed to my painted canoe and told him that the silver lining in terrible business is that I was afforded the time and opportunity to  do something really different and The Painted Canoe of Ely was born.  For just over two months and almost 400 hours of work, I painted this aluminum canoe with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness -past and present-  to the best of my ability to make something unique to Ely that hopefully people would travel to see.  It became my obsession, my Sistine Chapel.  And while Michelangelo easily runs astronomically large circles around me artistically (it's really close to zero comparison), he never painted a canoe.
I told the hiker that this was the very first thing I ever painted in my life in which my end goal was not to sell it.  I've pretty much sold every piece that I ever painted, but this canoe was different for me.  I was very happy that I was actually able to do this and am quite content with the outcome.
He walked around the canoe, pausing and bending to examine the detail of the various scenes as they changed along the freeboard.  He mentioned the 3D effect that some of the trees had along with the  depth of the images.  I attributed that particular effect to painting on aluminum.  Painting on aluminum offers a visual presentation that stretched canvas won't touch, I explained.  I can't quite figure out why, but it just does, and I really like it.  He appeared to like it  as well.
painted canoe of ely
The Painted Canoe of Ely
He then asked if he could snap a few photos and wanted me to stand alongside the canoe for one of them.  He said that he would never have guessed that walking for hundreds of miles and a chance following of a dirt road would lead him to see something like this work of art out in the woods.  He seemed glad that destiny led him down this path and added that he was sure blessed to be walking across the country like this because this life experience was one that he couldn't even imagine prior to actually doing it.  I offered that one just doesn't get to find the great things and people he's found/met while traveling in a car.  He agreed.
With that, he shook my hand, looked one more time at the canoe and told me that I've "certainly made a lot of lemonade"  and continued on his way.
May his journey continue to be safe and worthwhile.  It was an interesting mid-day for me.

Visit our Northwind Lodge Website here

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Into The Brush - Saving the Future of Wilderness One Stroke at a Time

Come up and stay with us for an Into The Brush art camp experience.  Learn the basics of painting plus become introduced or re-introduced to the joys of wilderness while staying in a nice, housekeeping cabin.  I think it's going to be a lot of fun for our new art students!  It'll also be an adventure and hopefully something that you'll want to do and share with friends and family for years to come!

Despite what the media says along zealot extremist environmental organizations, wilderness today is quite fine. It's doing well.  very little pollution if any is affecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. Wild animals are still running around. In some cases, it's a little TOO fine - meaning no humans are going to it anymore - it is not down to zero use but the number of humans seeking wilderness in northeastern Minnesota is tumbling.  Supposedly, there used to be 250,000 visitors per year to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the mid 90's. In 2013 the actual number is 114,000 participants and in 2014, it dropped to 97,000!  That is an alarmingly low number relative to the 250,000 back in the day.  We're still waiting for the government to release the 2015 numbers. I expect them to be lower and will post them when I get them. 

Don't you find it a shame that interest in the natural world is dwindling only to be replaced by the digital world and all of it's cheap distractions?  I know it bugs me and that is why I've started the Into The Brush art camp program. The "interest-in-wilderness-death-spiral" needs to stop.

We are going to save the FUTURE of wilderness, one stroke at a time.  Just think about that.  You go on an experience, paint some pretty cool stuff, go outside and play and have a really relaxing time at it.  You then go home,  & hang your cool painting on the wall.  Your friends want to know more about how it was that you did that, along with where was that beautiful place, and before you know it, you are telling the whole story about your Into The Brush adventure.  When they see that you could do it and had a blast, some of them might begin to turn a blinder eye to their electronic distractions.  Maybe they'll want to experience wilderness as well.  If everybody and his/her brother enjoys wilderness among the mature adults, what might the immature adults think?  Those are the ones who will be making the decisions of the future.  It's a lot harder to destroy a place that you like.  Observation + paint = fantastic experience.

If we don't get the word out to people who can think rationally today about the threat of "lack of public interest" for tomorrow, we are going to have a real problem.  Today's kids aren't going to care one bit if the water is drained from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to grow crops in the Heartland of the US where they are literally running out of water in 2016.  That is but only one disastrous possibility that will affect the wilderness of today if we don't get people back into the brush.

The only way to  actually save the future of wilderness is start re-introducing people to it.  Into The Brush seeks to expose students to bettering their observational skills, while applying basic painting skills using the surrounding wilderness of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for inspiration. It will be unique way to get back into the brush and see what one has been missing for all these years!

Find out more at our Northwind Lodge site:  Click Here

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Switching Gears - Moving into Art & Deeper into Wilderness

Things have really slowed down in this neck of the woods along with resort life.

The sorry state of the economy nationwide and locally is a big reason.  Then there are changing tastes by demographics.  All of our old customers have aged even more. Many are changing their patterns and interests accordingly with less distance in travel and/or more service-oriented travel such as cruise-type experiences.  Rustic adventures are no longer in their wheelhouses.  The 20-30 somethings have pretty much traded in all things wilderness for all things digital.  You can tell this is true by noting the big lines around the block every time Apple launches yet another iPhone.  The 40-somethings are struggling with the economy, debt, and family.

Who does that leave us in the resort business?  Independent, single, 20-something & 50-something women and older.

How do I know this?  Women in their 20's and 50's tend have no kids at home.   The youngin's may not yet be married with no interest in getting married soon or if ever, and respectively, the 50 YO's tend to be divorced, separated or hopefully at a point in their marriages where they are seeking to independently try something different after being "relegated" in a more custodial life role for so many past years.  Their hubbies know how to cook, won't burn down the house when they are gone, and they can actually do something for themselves with spousal blessings.   Both groups have some money and can afford doing things.  They also want to experience something "interesting and useful" with the time they have left being in reasonably good health.  And where are the young males in all of this?  Good question. They used to be on canoe trips by the car load.  Don't even see them any more in just 5 short years.

Tie all of that together with the fact that I have the need to "switch gears" in my business for survival plus the fact that I, too, like to do different things as well.  My bus man's holiday is art and I'm willing to share and want to encourage it.

I know how to paint.   I enjoy painting but left it almost entirely for about 33 years.  During those paintless years, I attempted to get back into painting but I struggled with my artwork.  I was unable to find the mojo to make it go for a broad variety of actual reasons.  Well, the same reasons above that have caused our regular business to falter somewhat have opened the door to painting for me and the mojo is back in  full force.

Time and priority did it.  I have more time available in between customers plus I have a lot of orders for commissioned works.  I'm now painting at level much higher than when I was young as far as volume.   Also, after 40+ years of teaching people how to do many different skilled activities, I'm confident that I can share my abilities in a productive way with people who are interested in learning and having fun while doing it.  Paddle a canoe correctly, ski up a hill, set the hook on a walleye,  sweat a copper joint, ride a mountain bike, and now how to paint - they are all very similar in end result and I have taught them to many people.

Another reason I decided to pursue a painting instruction program is in my real concern and alarm for the falling off of wilderness use in general.  America is aging.  Fishing and hunting license sales are dying in Minnesota.  The canoe parking lots in the BWCA are 25% full when only 4 years ago, they were 110%  full.  With the exception of the Blueberry Arts weekend time slot which used to be just another event in summer (and is now the peak of summer), the parking lots at all the Boundary Waters Entry Points are too big for the numbers of cars there.  Something drastic has happened and for inexplicable reasons, a lot of people up here are not noticing it or are simply in denial.

For employment, people moved into metro areas and have left the trappings of rural and wilderness living.  After going soft, they are not only turning their backs on wilderness as being too difficult, and too rustic to do, they are forgetting all about it as well.  How do I know this?  In 2014 an advisory panel of 21 Minneapolis "experts" were hired by a local organization up here to solve Ely's decline.  After 3 days of study, they suggested putting a footbridge over Miners Lake in Ely as an "attraction".  Most notable of their expert foibles was the installation of "pocket parks with free WIFI" throughout downtown Ely Minnesota.  Ely is the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Canoe Capital of the World and almost surrounded but one million acres of undeveloped wilderness.  The expert panel forgot all about the actual real wilderness in Ely MN located 5 minutes from town.  Instead they want to give visitors to Ely "a secluded wilderness experience of sorts" while they wander among the "for sale" signs of all the abandoned and closed businesses on the streets.   People actually DO come from the metro areas now to walk around in Ely, never venturing outside.  It's like a sci-fi movie where the aliens surround the town but never bother anyone who doesn't venture beyond the city limits.   If YOU can't figure out how messed up that is, there is no saving you.

Even a complete fool would question pocket parks in a northern Minnesota town surrounded by a massive, real, gorgeous, wilderness canoe-only park with thousands of clean lakes, good fishing, and wildlife.  You know we are in trouble with "saving the wilderness" if this is how low city people can go.  They are seeking out "fake" wilderness and can't see the forest because of all the trees.   Un-friggin'-believable!

The truly sad part is that the expert panel was most likely correct in the pocket-park idea.  We now live in a world of internet "pretenders" who want to be in a "safe space wilderness" and feel like they have actually accomplished something by sitting in one and looking at their iPhone.  With this attitude and practice will come the decline of wilderness in the future.

And that is why I started  Into The Brush.   Learn about wilderness and how to put in on canvas for the whole world to see.  Painting is one part the skill of the hand and eye, and one part the inspiration of one's soul put to canvas.   No stupid pocket parks with free WIFI will bring this about true inspiration compared to REAL wilderness in a nice cabin in the woods with NO concrete side walks and park benches upon which to sit.   Somebody's gotta do something in this world gone mad.  I can paint, I can paddle, and I can do a whole bunch of other stuff quite well.  Do you want to learn how to begin?  Click the link and read the program:

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Friday, January 1, 2016

New for  2016!


Have you ever been outside experiencing something spectacular for the day?  Say you were out on a hike and witnessed the a 3 o’clock sun setting on a distant tree line of a lake with dark clouds of a thunderstorm brewing behind those trees?  Or how about the way the sun lights up a rock?  Take a closer look at it sometimes.  The most mundane of objects carries the most fascinating details that I would venture 98% of the world simply overlooks.  Is it the rock that is fascinating by its mere existence, or the shadow produced by the natural light hitting the rock?  And if it’s not that exciting of a rock, what can you still learn from it while it basks silently in the  light?  Do you really want to come home and talk about it?  “I saw a rock today!” Or instead, what if you came home to “paint about it”?  A picture is worth a thousand words.  How exciting can you make that rock appear?

Now, I realize this somewhat bizarre opening paragraph might indicate that I have a penchant for the healing powers of crystals and donning a saffron robe while smoking weed with my head shaved but for a little tiny braid off the occipital ridge, but none of that is me.  I’m pretty ordinary and rather nondescript.  Where I differ from a lot of people lies in my interest for observation.  I have a friend who once marveled at my observatory interest telling me that I was the most observant person he knew.  Now, if he only knew two people, that wasn’t much to go with and since I don’t know how many other people he knows, I’m not going to let it go to my head.  The main point is that I naturally tend to notice details.  I make it a point to pay attention and look for things that make other things notable.  Many, many people do not do this.  And, it drives me up a wall. “How could they not see that?” comes to my mind.   But, everybody has a set of their own rules that they live by that are not my set of rules, which is a good thing.  I have to keep reminding myself of that.   So, they don’t pay attention to the things which I observe.  And, some of them also get into trouble for it which explains broken bones, fallings, drownings, getting hit by a bus,  and other depressing thoughts, but realities of life, nonetheless.

My upbringing was very much based on wilderness observation through being taught to hunt, trap and fish by my dad when I was very young and in those formative years.  Spending a lot of time in the woods or even out just outdoors, really helps with one’s focus on details.  Given the absolute fact that I have friends (Connie Edwards, et al) who have become excellent artists later in life, plus knowing my own abilities and what it took to get there, I am convinced that everyone is capable of painting about what they saw.  I also believe they can do an astonishingly good job of it.
I’ve heard countless people who view my  artwork and then feel compelled to tell me that they never could draw and struggled through art class in school.   Some of them are convinced that there is “no hope” for them, but I have always maintained that everybody can paint and do so with effect.  It’s especially helpful if someone can tell you what you need to do to start.  That is half the battle right there.   When you were a kid in school, maybe the teacher wasn’t right for you, maybe you were distracted  by that good-looking 8th grader at the end of the table.  You had focus issues.  Who didn’t?  We were kids.  But, as an adult you already have a set of observational skills of which you are not even aware.  Once you figure out how to section apart what you are looking at and then identify the colors and tones as they sit before you, painting becomes a whole lot easier.  Still sounds a bit challenging?  It is.  But it’s also a cerebral fun unlike any other activity that you might enjoy.  At least that is what I think, anyway.

Painting is “yoga” without all the stretching and breathing.  Now, you should probably do all the stretching and breathing because the extra oxygen to the brain will improve your painting, but my wife is the yoga teacher and I’m going to stick to what I know.

I suspect that painting lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.  I suppose there are studies out there, but I prefer to guess.  Painting, and the act of focusing on it, offers a great escape for one’s mind.  The sky is the limit in what you decide to paint.  There are no boundaries, no edges, and no end of the lines for you as long as you hold a brush with some color on it.  The only limits in painting are in your imagination.  Painting, unlike most team sports and even individual sports and activities, can be done into very old age even with disabilities.  Plus, the other absolute beauty in painting is that nobody, and I mean nobody, can take it away from you so long as you can pick up a brush.  The other cool thing about painting is that you don’t need a formal education to do it.  While having an art degree is helpful perhaps as I’m sure such a degree broadens one’s horizons in all forms of art, to paint on one’s own requires nothing but the will to do it. Pick up a brush and find something to paint on.  For the record, I have a degree in business and I took several art classes in college thinking I would learn something of value.  Man – did they suck!  30 years later and I’m still talking about how crappy those so-called art classes were in college.  I didn’t need them and neither do you.

That being said, getting started is still a bit more daunting to many and for that reason, I decided to put together a northwoods program for newbies to painting from a perspective of experience, observation and application.  Mine is a multi-faceted approach to getting you started and stuck deep in the world of painting and fine art.

NOW – don’t get all excited when you look at the scattered wineglasses and mugs that I painted.  We are going to start simply and keep it that way.  I’m not expecting a Mona Lisa in your first hour and the beauty of art allows you plenty of room to explore, test and most importantly, have fun!  Check out the links below for lots more info.

Please Note:  When you click on the links below, you will be teleported to our Northwind Lodge main website where you can also see this new art program in it's entirety.