Month: October 2014

Billy’s Bar

Billy's bar
It seemed fitting my last night in Minnesota to meet up with Linda Nervick at Billy’s Bar in Duluth. Billy’s is the finish line for the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and holds a red-lantern party that goes on until the last musher comes across. Linda has been my go-to person from the beginning with this project – connecting me with people along the way and sharing her contagious passion for the world of mushing. Linda is hanging on to my guitar and keyboard (thank you Linda!) until I return in mid-January because – I am now home!
I’ll continue to post things here as I gather information. In February I’ll have lots of new material because I’ll try some mushing with Matt Groth and will be experiencing Minnesota winter for the first time. What Minnesota folks have to say about this:
“The trick is-layers.” “I stay inside for most of the winter… stock up on supplies and sort of hole-up and read, sew, play games…” “You’ve just got to act like it’s any other time and get outside as much as possible or you’ll go nuts.” “Layers. Merino wool.”

“Oh god, you’re from California? You are DOOMED!”

“Oh, mercy…” “Just layer-up. Three layers of thermals.”
“Make sure you have emergency supplies in your car at all times because if you go off the road…” “Oh, no, no no, I don’t stay here in the winter, I go to Florida, every year…” “Steger Mukluks, yeah…”
“Layers. Get outside!”
I mentioned a few blogs ago that I had a fun interview with Will Moore at the 90.7 FM WTIP community radio station in Grand Marais. You can listen to that here.
And here are some fascinating excerpts from the diary of Catherine Kirby Jones-referring to mail, sled dogs, music and interactions with Ojibwe neighbors. Catherine Kirby Jones arrived in Grand Marais in November of 1898 when her son accepted a teaching position there and her husband, Dr. Henry Jones was to assist Dr. Thomas Mayhew. She kept a daily diary – 1898 to 1900. (Cook County Historical Society reserves all rights to this artifact.)
diary of Catherine Kirby Jones for Crazy Cold 1
diary of Catherine Kirby Jones for Crazy Cold 2
A photo from the Cook Historical Society of Ojibwe kids with their dogs:
Ojibwe children with dogs in canoe
The moose I saw:
MOOSE for CCB fl

Boundary Waters

Robin Boundary Waters 3
This is as far as I go. The Boundary Waters area up the Gunflint Trail.
Trail Center
Checkpoint 5 of the Beargrease Marathon is up here where the mushers gather at the Trail Center Lodge and are treated to some fine cooking by Sarah and crew. Sarah said that many of the mushers will spend up to 8 hours here re-grouping before heading out the 63 mile stretch to the next checkpoint, Devil’s Track.
Hunting season here.
3 otters in one shot


Sawbill Checkpoint

The Sawbill Checkpoint – in autumn!

Checkpoint 4 of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is Sawbill. This is a wilderness checkpoint where handlers and dog trucks aren’t allowed and the mushers take care of things themselves, spreading out in the woods. Teams are required to rest here for 4 hours. I stopped in Schroeder this morning for coffee and to ask if anyone there knew the way to the Sawbill checkpoint.  It turned out that Kathy, who made my latté, knew exactly where the Sawbill Checkpoint was because she and her husband, Curt Laboda, have a sled dog team they use for recreational purposes. In my grant proposal I mentioned wanting to study the history and culture of sled dog mushing in this north shore area and one intriguing part of this is the use of dogs for occasions such as camping and fishing, exploration, hauling wood and supplies. So, it was particularly interesting for me having a talk with Kathy about this aspect of the sled dog world. Curt has also run the Beargrease, finishing 2nd when he was only about 18! Here they are on a fishing trip in the Boundary Waters area.
Kathy and Curt boundary waters

An old photo I found in a junk store last week:
sled dog

Took a spur of the moment drive over to Ely yesterday to visit the International Wolf Center. This photo is on display there:

Sig Olson 2



Roasted Cat

For the past two days I’ve been holed up in the Weyerhaeuser Room of the library in the History Center here in St. Paul. It is sort of a miracle I think, a library like this and the opportunity to sift through letters, photographs and drawings that are from the late 19th century. I’ve begun to find some great material for lyrics! Tomorrow I’ll be heading back toward Grand Marais and then on up the Gunflint Trail to the boundary waters area. Before I go – a few finds from the digging…
Drawings for a manuscript entitled “Indians of North America” by a Herman Haupt:
rein deer

A story recounted by a resident of Beaver Bay – 1887:
cat in oven 2
And a view from here, looking out at St. Paul:
St. Paul from History Center

White Bear Lake

White Bear Lake. Sunset, Saturday. October 4th.

White Bear Lake

In an abrupt change of focus I am now in White Bear Lake, home to the Century College Chorus – directed by Jocelyn Kalajian. Jocelyn first contacted me several years ago through ChoralNet website, curious about the possibility of having her chorus perform “Heading Home” – the piece I had written in memory of Susan Butcher. They did a beautiful rendition of the song that winter season (at some point here I’ll figure out how to share a recording) and also performed “Figgy Pudding” – my setting of a recipe for such… SATB with piano, wooden spoons, 1 giant-sized spoon, bowls and bundt pan. I finally got to meet Jocelyn and her husband John Middleton (also a musician and teacher!) and was treated to a much-appreciated and yummy home cooked dinner! Here is the big wooden spoon John’s dad made for the performance.

Figgy spoon

Last night I attended a concert showcasing 8 Minnesota choral groups. It was held at the St. Andrews Lutheran Church. Some component of the Beargrease song cycle will be choral and this was a fantastic way to hear a variety of Minnesota choral sounds – all absolutely stellar. The selection of material was hugely varied and included a cappella works as well as many with piano accompaniment and some (Verdi’s Dies Irae) featuring this impressive organ:

Cantus 2

Shown here – the 9-member group Cantus. You can hear Cantus performing one of those “Tiny Desk” concerts, NPR.

Another clipping from the Cook County newspaper, 1895.

Carriboo drifting

And one more of Colleen Wallin from last week, hitching up her team…

Colleen setting up the team 2


A nod to Grand Marais

Tonight is my last night here in Grand Marais. For the next 5 days I’ll be in and around the Cities for additional sleuthing, then circling back this way and up the Gunflint Trail to the Boundary Waters area.
A few images from around here the past few days. This is Indy, one of Frank Moe’s beauties…
Dogs of Moetown 3
End of day Tuesday
End of day Wednesday – a shift in the weather! This photo was taken on the way to visit Matt Groth who will be taking me mushing when I return in February.
Mile marker 117
While looking at microfilm today from an 1894 Cook County Herald, found this:
nine wolves 2
Canoes at the Heritage Center in Grand Portage and a bottle of bear grease used to seal the birch bark.
Heritage canoes w beargrease
And here’s to John Shaw, 1895!
John K. Shaw
I had the honor of talking with Arleigh Jorgenson about mushing and things Beargrease the other day and have been following his lead in talking with some of the folks around here. Arleigh has been involved with the Beargrease since the early days of the race and will be the featured speaker at the gala dinner this year.
Also visited Will Moore for a talk at the local 90.7 FM WTIP community radio station. The station is a truly great listen! Thanks for the invite Will!