Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

It’s been awhile since our last post here, 2014 to be exact. Seasons have come and gone a few times with nothing on this page. My good friend Mark reminded me of this a year ago last fall at our annual rendezvous. The two of us were setting up tents and canopies for the event and were taking a sit down break. I was trying to figure out how many trips I still had to make to get everything to the site so we could get it set up. I knew my brother would be out the next day to set up so I wasn’t worried, just aware of the task to come. And hoping I wouldn’t forget anything. Out of the blue Mark said “You haven’t written anything on the Blackpowder Beagle(BPB) site for awhile.” An observation. More of a question. A bit startled,  I looked at him, looked away to the ground and said “Yeeahhh I know. I just haven’t been able to put anything together”.

They say creative people aren’t the same as other people. They can’t necessarily put out a product on a regular basis. Yes I’m calling myself creative. They/we often appear to be slacking off(and sometimes they/we are), seemingly not working on the task or project, being too relaxed about the whole thing. I’ve read that at Microsoft the people in charge of developing new products have one of those Nerf basketball setups in their work-space, and that they spend a lot of time shooting hoops, appearing to get paid good money to play Nerf B-ball. Actually they are coming up with ideas and working things out in their minds while “goofing around”. Their brains work better with a slight distraction. I think we all do that from time to time. It’s interesting how much you can get done while on a run, a bike ride, or while paddling or fishing. The Microsoft guys are the masters of this. It reminds me of a scene from the original Star Trek series. Now I mean the original cast with Kirk, McCoy, Spock, etc. Fictional I know but it gave us a look into the power of the Vulcan mind. If you don’t remember, Spock and McCoy were often at odds over logic and human emotions and the pros and cons of each. More than once you heard McCoy utter something about that ‘damn Vulcan logic,’ and Spock would respond  “Really Dr. McCoy, you must learn to control your emotions.” Over the course of the series and the movies some of the Spock/McCoy interactions were quite amusing, although at times a somewhat amused Kirk would have to step in with one of his “Gentlemen, gentlemen I think we’ve heard enough, we’ve got work to do!”

Anyway, in this scene things were bad, lives were on the line, time was short and the impossible had to be done. Time travel(I think) was to be attempted, and Mr. Spock started doing the math calculations. Things were looking good. Then Mr. Scott rushes in with a problem that could throw a wrench into the whole thing, declaring “Captain, I canna change the laws of physics; I’ve got to have moor(more) time!” So Kirk, McCoy, Spock, and Scotty are trying fix Mr. Scott’s problem. McCoy, realizing time is of the essence gets annoyed with Spock who appears to be spending too much time on Scotty’s problem, and, trying to catch him shirking his mathematical duties glares at him declaring “SPOCK aren’t you supposed to be working on the time travel calculations?!  Mr. Spock, who is helping Scotty AND doing the ridiculously convoluted time travel math in his head calmly looks at McCoy and says with typical Vulcan non-emotion “I am” and looks away again. At this, McCoy all but implodes, mutters something unintelligible and storms away. It’s one of my favorite scenes.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in the present time period, it’s early March and a lot of folks would like to use some time travel to jump ahead a month or two. Weather-wise the last month has been a bit unusual for February, being much colder than normal  early on with actual temperatures being in the minus 20’s and minus 30’s at night while staying well below zero during the day. Winds would cause jaws to drop nationwide as they produced windchills in the minus 40’s to near minus 70. Officially called a Polar Vortex by meteorologists, old-timers called it an old-fashioned “cold snap”.

Then the snow came. My snowblower saw more action this past February than the last two, maybe three total winters combined. Every few days the phrase “another chance for measurable or plow-able snow” could be heard and would elicit an audible groan and definite agitation in the populace. Snowshoers, skiers, snowmobilers and dogs alike were giddy with glee. However, down in the Twin Cities it snowed more days than it didn’t. In the end they received two feet more than a typical February, totaling 39 inches in 28 days. Cries of “where’s Spring?” could be heard all over. Reminding some people that this is February in MN, it supposed to be like this and that Spring is still a month away brought stares that burned holes in you, but at the same time dropped the temperatures even more. Pointing this out also got you banished from certain circles and establishments and unfriended on Facebook. And here we are in early March, month of the infamous “tournament storms”. Oh boy…

winter pan 2013

it’s been a snowy month…

So although some parts of the state have received more snow than is typical, especially in such a short time-period, it’s been a fairly “old-fashioned” winter. But people aren’t used to it, they’ve forgotten what winter is really like. That’s because we haven’t had anything remotely like this in the southern two thirds of the state since 2014. Up until early February of this year(2019) we haven’t been able to snowshoe(requiring at least 12 inches of snow) here in central MN more than three times since 2014. We almost had it late this past December, with ten inches down, but then it again melted down to 3-4 inches. We got out once last year in mid April(!), yes mid April, twice the year before. In each instance the snow was gone or reduced to a couple inches of crust within a few days of falling. When ever a snowy weather system was on the horizon it went around central MN or fizzled. If it did hit us it often melted partially or completely within two weeks or less. All winter long, since 2014. A local cross-country ski race was organized for the third week of January starting in 2015. January of this year-2019 it was finally able to be held for the first time-with barely enough snow. Too dry otherwise.



Enough commentary. The BPB have been busy the last 4 years, flowing with the seasons, transitioning from one to the next, along the way experiencing and learning new things. And continuing to introduce young and old to the outdoors. Some of us are in different chapters of our lives taking on new and unfamiliar challenges, with successes and failures. Two of our young guns are not so young anymore, both having graduated high school. Both are big hits with the youngest crowd at our rendezvous, having developed into great teachers of their events. And both bring pride to their families and the BPB, serving our country in the Army National Guard and United States Marine Corp. So for the time being the BPB are a bit spread out. But in the end we almost always have time for each other, especially at the annual BPB Avon Hills Rendezvous. That is always a good time.

Even though it has, for now become a challenge to gather throughout the year we still find time to celebrate the seasons. Foraging for wild foods is a challenge, whether it’s wild rice, blueberries, cranberries, maple syrup, sumac berries, leeks, fiddle heads or morels. Most years we don’t get to all of them but when we can it’s a great year.




We continue to hold our Rendezvous every October just as the leaves are approaching their fantastic best. New people and families have joined us every year convincing us to keep going. Curiously the archery segment is gaining popularity and is slowly morphing into mostly longbow and recurve shooters. And the BPB seems to send a contingent to the Perham Rendezvous every year where we share fun times with our friends up there while representing the BPB well in the shooting, archery, and ax throws.


BPB at Perham Rondy


archers at the BPB Rondy


fun at the BPB Rondy

This time of year is maple syrup season. When winter has run it’s lap for the year the days are longer, temps are warmer, and the snow is melting. The baton exchange with Spring is just ahead. There is a period of time, two to maybe four weeks in length when nighttime temps are below freezing and daytime temps hover in the mid to upper thirties to maybe forty degrees. When this happens, through the gift of physics the sap begins to flow in the maple trees.  Small holes are drilled into selected trees, a spile(a specifically designed short length of “pipe”) is tapped into the holes and a container is then hung below the spile to capture the sap. Many trees may be drilled and tapped. When enough sap has been collected it is boiled down to produce that wonderful thing we call maple syrup. About 40 gallons of sap are needed to produce one gallon of syrup. The length of the season is dependent upon the temperatures. When the nighttime temps start to stay above the freezing mark the time has come to shut things down until next year. This year we are behind because it’s been a cooler than normal start to March. The season may go into April as it did last year. We’ll wait and see.


After the maple syrup season we can look forward to the greening of the landscape as the sun really takes over. This means foraging for fiddleheads and leeks, and later on the chance to hunt morels. It also means the first wildflowers will poke their heads up; often hepatica, and then bloodroot are the first to be seen. Hepatica can sometimes be seen in thick “mats” that can cover several square yards in colors that range from white to pink to lavender to violet. And all the time never reaching much over three inches tall.


And finally spring brings the opportunity to hunt gobblers, or longbeards; the wild turkey. Their thundering response to your calling can cause any hunter’s heart to pound. It’s an addicting challenge: turkeys possess color vision with acuity superior to ours, hearing that rivals that of a whitetail, the ability to figure out what they are seeing ten times faster than a human can, and absolutely no curiosity. If something seems out of place they usually don’t wait to confirm their suspicions, they turn and leave, sometimes in a hurry. Even from as far as 100 yards away. But when you get one to come to your calling it’s electric. Imagine sitting against a big ole oak and seeing as I have, not one, not two, but three gobblers coming over a rise three abreast 55 yards away, all in full strut, gobbling, looking for that nonexistent hen that sounded so sexy. I was doing the calling that morning for my nephew sitting next to me. It was his first turkey hunt. His gun was already up and in position; you don’t want the birds to see you move. The toms, back-lit by the encroaching sun came over the rise three across in glorious, puffed-chest, wing dragging-big-fanned-tail full strut gobbling like madmen, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all in unison. You could feel it in your core, resonating. It was utterly deafening. I then heard my nephew mutter to no one in particular “Oh my gawd!”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the end of his gun barrel begin to waver, then to shake. He tried to stay under control but the adrenaline shot was just too big. He was toast.

The toms continued in but then stopped short just out of range. They had seen something they didn’t like and turned around to leave. I pleaded with them to come back, and they did, eyeing our decoy, gobbling but unsure. I began to shake. Their gobbling intensified as I pleaded for them to come on in. Again they turned to leave, still gobbling, and again I brought them back. This back and forth continued for awhile, quite awhile. Eventually they tired of the suspicious sassy hen and moved away for good,  back to the east, over the rise, still gobbling. After our heart-rates and breathing returned to normal I checked my watch. The whole episode-start to finish had lasted just over an hour. Turkey hunting. It’s addicting.

SO, as Spring takes the baton for its lap be sure to get outdoors. And introduce a person or two to the outdoors. Especially a young one. Who knows you may end up with a lifelong  fishing, hunting, or camping buddy. What could be better than that!

Enjoy the Outdoors,




Summer into Fall in the Avon Hills

IMG_2249It’s mid September already and many people I’ve talked to say summer went by way too fast, especially those of younger school age. I remember when I was that young, thinking the same thing, because it seemed, living in the country, that summer always seemed to be filled with fun and adventure, between jobs, mowing, painting, pulling weeds, and all the other unspeakable tasks inflicted upon us by the adults in our lives.  So, we were never bored, and sometimes we actually looked forward to school starting so we could get away from these summer atrocities. However, parents always had the last laugh when in mid October the leaves fell by the billions from the “millions” of oak trees in the area, which actually led to another fun activity: burning leaves. These days we do the responsible thing and chop them up to turn into compost for the garden. How boring!

For me this summer was a busy one, with a new beagle puppy picked up in early June and the continuing work that goes along with puppies, a fun(yes fun) family reunion at the end of July, a canoe trip just days after the reunion, a fun weekend at a rendezvous up north, another good, busy vegetable garden, and ongoing remodeling of my small but full den/workshop downstairs. And then back to school. The leaves will soon follow.

Filson Tiberius at 8 weeks.

Filson Tiberius at 8 weeks.

Yes it’s been busy with a new puppy to look after and train. There have been and still are many sleep deprived days as we work with Filson, the little guy’s name. He’s the 4th beagle we have raised and also the most challenging, elevating all previous ones, especially Buddy to sainthood. Good things sometimes take time.

We had a “dreaded” family reunion in July that was actually fun, with relatives from California, Texas, New York and elsewhere making the trek to central Minnesota; some I’ve never heard of and others I hadn’t seen in four decades. My mom and her sisters did most of the work and despite some minor glitches in a rather overwhelming task things went well. It was a good event to pull off since people aren’t getting any younger.

A canoe trip was taken in early August by myself, brother Tim, and his son Adam. We journeyed north from Kawishiwi Lake in the BWCA eventually staying on Polly and Malberg Lakes. The southern part of our route took us through parts of the Pagami Creek burn, a fire which took place in 2011. The resulting open landscape is interesting, allowing one to see for miles instead of feet into the “woods”. We stopped more than once to load up on ripe raspberries that sometimes were found in patches covering acres, one of the resulting after-effects of a forest fire. We also took a day trip to the east up the Louse River where we saw lots of neat scenery and had a blast catching walleye, smallmouth, and northerns.IMG_4959 The end of our trip was unique; planning to stay on a lake about 2 1/2 hours from the vehicle, we instead offered our campsite to a group from California who had arrived late in the day and were without a campsite due to the fire three years ago(the remaining sites on the lake were wiped out by the fire). They

Good fishin' in the BWCA

Good fishin’ in the BWCA

were rookies in the BWCA, with a long tough portage to the next lake that had campsites, and we were veterans of many trips who had already had their fun trip. Plus we knew, with our paddling strength we could cover the distance needed before sundown. We had to travel upstream, cross some short portages but employing racing style paddling made the difference. And Adam was the hero of the day: he gave it all he had despite the still sometimes intense nagging pain in his shoulder  from an ATV accident last fall. He cranked that paddle all the way to our destination and when we got there he got out of the canoe and just stood there bent over, holding his shoulder. But he said it was fun.

Mid August took the same three guys plus friend Dave to Perham, MN for their 30th? annual black powder shoot. We shot well, we shot poorly, shopped, ate well, laughed and we had fun. It was fun to see some of the acquaintances we have met over the years, some who are planning to come to our Rendezvous the first weekend in October.IMG_2086

Which brings me to our next event: the 8th Annual Avon Hills Rendezvous and Black Powder Shoot. This is held south of Avon in the hills, where fall colors are always great. It’s an event where friends, family, and anyone who wants to can come “rendezvous”  or gather together to shoot black powder, archery, throw tomahawk, eat, sing, and generally have good clean family fun. Historically a “rendezvous” was held once a year, sometimes at the same site. It was a time when trappers and traders, natives and fur company officials alike would get together to trade furs, goods, supplies, stories, and lies. There would be contests of shooting and throwing, drinking of spirits, plus tall tales, eating, fighting, singing and anything else that might take place far from early 1800’s civilization. These events might last for weeks as it was the only time many of the people attending ever saw other humans.IMG_2088

Nowadays things are a bit different, less raucous.People still have a blast, but it’s good clean fun. Our rendezvous still employs some of the original events: shooting contests, throwing tomahawk, eating, laughing, making new friends. We also allow people to come and learn a new skill, try something new. In fact, it’s theIMG_2161 main reason we are out here in the woods on a beautiful October weekend in MN. If you have always wanted to try shooting a bow and arrow, or learn what a muzzleloader is and how to load and shoot it we can show you how it’s done. And you will have the opportunity to shoot. Want to try throwing a tomahawk, or maybe start a fire using flint and steel? How about a guided nature walk in the October woods? We have all of that and moreIMG_2099.

We will have limited concessions on hand, as well as a silent auction and trading post to help finance the event. The big draw for many, young and old alike is our Wes Leedahl Memorial drawings(see a list of prizes on our black powder shoot link above).

Dad Tim and Adam at the 1st ever rondy in 2007

Dad Tim and Adam at the 1st ever rondy in 2007

This is held in memory of my dad Wes, who, throughout much of his life introduced many of us to the outdoors, whether it was camping, canoe trips to the BWCA, hunting, fishing, or just being outside. He influenced our family and many others who still remember those early experiences  and are passing the torch to others.

Getting outside was and still is important to our well-being and that is one of our missions at the Black Powder Beagles; to get people back outside.

How many of us know what a small spring-fed trout creek looks like, or what a good grouse hunting woods contains and what it smells like in the fall. Have you ever noticed how a breeze so soft you can’t feel it will make the leaves on a quaking aspen whisper? How does a campfire burning oak smell compare to one burning birch? Have you ever just sat down outside, away from the city on a clear, calm, moonlit midwinter night when it’s well below zero and just looked at the stars and listened? How about listening to the high-pitched squeak of snow underfoot as you take a walk when it’s 10 below, and how that sounds different to when it’s 20 above zero. Have you ever been on a deer stand before sun-up and listened and watched as the world wakes up for the day? Or been on stand after a hard frost, listening to what sounds like rainfall, but it’s actually hundreds of leaves all falling at the same time. Have you ever taken a walk in the early spring woods as the early wildflowers are blooming, or been anywhere where it’s so quiet you not only can hear a pin drop, but you can hear the roar of silence in your ears; and you hear a rhythmic drumming that seems to come from nowhere, but actually it comes from within, your own heart beat.IMG_2085

Come to our Rendezvous and have fun, learn something new, and share your outdoor experiences with us, we’ll listen. If you are on Facebook  visit our 8th annual Avon Hills Rendezvous and Black Powder Shoot  Event page, or go to the Black Powder  Beagles group and say hi!


Get outside,




The Liquid Gold of the Avon Hills

Well, it’s April 3rd already, but Winter, like a stubborn Minnesota Norwegian is refusing to give in to the mosquito season. You know, that warmer time of year when most Minnesotans head north instead of south for vacation: “up to the lake”. Ahh, the relaxation, the fishing, the swimming. But wait a minute, the thermostat is still stuck in “cooler than normal” mode, ever since Old Man Winter started laughing at us when he threw a strong two-fister of snow and cold at us back in mid-December. Yes the temperatures are still giving people fits. There’s still plenty of snow in the woods, the ice still thick on the lakes. The trout season opens in nine days, and the phrase “ice-covered opener” is beginning to creep back into our vocabulary. To top it off the forecast is calling for a winter storm warning and another possible six to twelve or more inches, which has many people spitting tacks. Well traction should be good with all those tacks! So yeah things are a bit out of whack. Normally by this time of the year we are in the midst of our time in the sugarbush, trying to stay ahead of the sap flow. Usually at this time the trees are giving up copious amounts of sap, that stuff we turn into what I sometimes call “Liquid Gold”. At times it can be hard to cook it down fast enough since raw sap has a relatively short lifespan. It’s often a fast and furious time to make the most of what the trees are offering up.

But as I mentioned earlier winter is toying with us, trying to see how long we will tolerate this foolishness.This usually is a time of weather “mood swings” but this year the only moods involved belong to the citizens of this fine state. And with the below average temperatures, conditions are not good for sap flow-typically temps around 40 degrees during the day and below freezing at night are pretty ideal. This year not so much. ..This extra free time has allowed us to take care of other things like cutting and splitting extra firewood and getting things done at home before it gets all crazy. And then I remembered this little essay I wrote a few years back to a friend who, familiar with making maple syrup had moved away, out of maple syrup country. I sent the essay to him along with a few bottles of “liquid gold”. It’s very basic and simple, elemental, and non scientific. Here it is:

Each year the world, within the depths of the cold dark winter, reaches a point in its path where the days begin to lengthen, to get warmer. The cold silent starkness that sends Nimrod the Hunter out on full moons to look for Canis the Songdog is gradually replaced by the building of sound and sunlight as we turn the corner on our yearly trip around the Sun. Soon the Chickadee is singing his spring song, and there is a drip, drip, drip, from the roofs of our dwellings telling us to get ready, get ready, get ready, as the mercury rises steadily day by day. The snow begins to settle, and becomes firm after sundown as it undergoes  metamorphosis into something more solid. We stir with excitement for we know what’s coming. Preparations are made: the last of the wood is split, buckets cleaned of a year’s worth of dust, the drill bit sharpened. We walk the woods on our Bear paws visiting our old friends in the sugarbush, planning, anticipating.

Then the time is right; the days warm, the nights cool; the snow soft in the Sun, frozen at night. We abandon everything else and plunge into a different time and place, take several steps back in time to partake of this centuries old tradition which we will think back upon all year. We have high hopes, more taps, and even more energy. Drilling, tapping, hanging over and over until we have them all out. Then the wait for that thump, thump, thump of the first drops into empty buckets, and the knowing smiles that follow.

The heaviness of full buckets that time after time need to be emptied, the sore arms and shoulders that are ignored for another trip back into the bush. Twenty, forty, sixty gallons and more… Crackling oak, ironwood, and ash producing the first aromatic steam of the year that you can’t get enough of, that you can smell deep in the woods, that keeps you going. The ever darkening shades of amber magically appearing in the big pan. That wonderful aroma getting stronger as the amber ever deepens before your tired, smoke weary eyes.The laughter in the woods. A quick bite to eat and then back at it. There is really no time for sleep or work. The satisfaction of our efforts. We are addicted to this slushy, sweet dance in the timber; no activities outside the sugarbush universe are pursued. We have to make the most of this time, as we do every year.

And then, the time comes when the nights are too warm, the buckets tired. It seems like it went on forever, but also that we just got started. Finally, a chance to sample our prize; AAHHH yes, this is what we have been waiting for. Here it is, our elixir, our amber work of love. And now a sudden flurry of pancakes and maple sundaes will dominate our diets.

We will do this again next time around; we will produce our liquid gold, to be shared so that people may understand. And so they may know that this liquid amber is a product of sun and frost, of sweat and fatigue; it is born of wood smoke and wet feet, of heat and steam, it is offered up by the maple and the melting snow, supervised by the squirrel and the red-shoulders. It comes from deep within the Avon Hills, the beautiful Avon Hills of Minnesota. It comes from the heart of the Black Powder Beagles to you so that you may not forget.

It is, …a gift from GOD.


Get Outside,



To Snowshoe

Our main form of transportation in the woods when the white stuff is deep.

Our main form of transportation in the woods when the white stuff is deep.

So when does winter begin? Technically, astronomically it arrives on December 21st. But, if you ask several different people I’m sure you would get several different answers. Some might say when we get our first snowfall, or our first significant snowfall. Well then we have to define what a significant snowfall is; 2 inches, 4 inches, shovellable, plowable snow, or maybe 8-10 inches. I would guess that those who dislike any temperature below 32 degrees would lean toward the 2-4 inch amount while those who like winter would vote for the 8-10 inch candidate.

Others might say winter doesn’t arrive till the temps dip into single digits for a length of time, or maybe drop below zero for the first time. A few might insist it’s not winter until you can drive a truck on the ice. Some may even say that it’s not winter till after the first of the year. And yet others might say winter arrives when there is enough snow for skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling, regardless of the date.

Where ever you may fall into the above categories I think most would agree that this year winter arrived for good in early December with decent snow and temperatures that have been well below average; the final weekend of the MN muzzleloader deer season the temps kept dropping, finally bottoming out at 8 below on the last morning which was the 15th. The rest of the month it seemed like the mercury was too weak to get into double digits. If you like to be outside, conditions like this can challenge your ability to stay comfortable, but doing so can be rewarding. That final morning of the muzzleloader season when it was minus 8 three of us had worked our way half a mile through 11 inches of snow to our chosen spot up in the hills and were witness to a beautiful sunrise that was not visible from the warm cozy cabin. Our youngest in the group at age 15 got a little chilly up in the tree stand, but otherwise we remained comfortable enough to keep hunting.

So what else can you do when it’s chilly out there? Of course the couch is always there beckoning. It’s warm and soft. But what if you are getting bored and stir crazy, the first symptoms of cabin fever? I’m sure the mall will be open but the holidays seem to leave many of us weary of sales and hordes of humanity. We want quiet.

Well there’s ice fishing which can be a lot of fun, often involves much quiet sitting and without a warm house can be challenging. Downhill skiing? Lots of people. Expensive. Snowmobiling? Fast fun, solitude, but there’s that engine noise and exhaust. Cross country skiing is great, one of my favorites. Solitude, quiet gliding, and great exercise. But for many it’s a bit challenging to master and too strenuous for some. Plus groomed trails are nice but not necessary. So aside from just walking there’s one of the oldest ways to get about the countryside in the winter: snowshoes. These allow you to go just about anywhere you can walk. And if you can walk you should be able to snowshoe. You can make it what you want: a hard workout, a leisurely hike or anything in between. It’s quiet, which makes it relaxing, and at the pace most of us traipse about there’s good opportunity to observe wildlife and the landscape more intimately. Following animal tracks is fun, trying to determine what they are up to. Sometimes you come across tracks that end rather abruptly at a set of widespread wing marks, marking the end of one life and the continuation of another. In winter food is survival.

Snow does beautiful things when it’s deep. Deep powder is fun to navigate on snowshoes, and at times can be challenging. Snow covered tree branches and conifers are great therapy. And I’m always on the lookout for snow constrictors, which like to hang out on larger horizontal branches. Shadows late in the day can be beautiful in the winter landscape, and the sunset can mark the end of a good day.

If this sounds like something you would like to know more about you’re in luck. On January 18th at the Tree House Studio in Avon there will be an Intro to Snowshoeing class. If you’re new to snowshoeing or just want to learn a bit more this is a good place to be. We will discuss snowshoe history, development, snowshoe styles, and materials. A good way to learn about anything is to try it out and so we will go outside and try different ‘shoes. Finally, since it is winter we will look at several examples of winter clothing and discuss how to dress for snowshoeing and cold weather in general. If you have a hard time staying warm in the winter you don’t want to miss this.

Author Elliot Merrick wrote this in True North in 1933 about his life in Labrador:                 A snowshoe trail on a sunny day after a light fall of snow is a lovelier thing than I can describe. I often look back at it streaming from our heels, flowing back astern like the wake of a ship, a long winding track that scars the lonely limitless snow as a ship’s track might scar the Pacific. Over glistening white hills and marshes and lakes it winds, a darker serpentine ribbon, scallop-edged, filled with tumbled blue shadow markings. And every individual print is a beautiful thing. It is like sculptor and like a painting, endless impressions of an Indian craftsman’s masterpiece. Here is the broader webbed babische of the close knit middles, here the finer-knit tibische of the heads and tails, molded into the snow, perfect in every finest line; there the round-curved frame of strong white birch and the lip of a tail, the head bar and the tail bar, the toe hole and a little cup, scooped out of the snow where the toes pushed through the hole at the end of the step; the blurred mark of the dragging tail, then another perfect, grace-lined pattern printed in blue-white marble. The concave curve of a right tail nestles round the convex bulge of a left head, and the purple ribbon is only a little wider than one snowshoe.late in the day BWCA

For details about the Intro to Snowshoeing class click on the Classes by BPB page above.

Get outside,


Rondy Just Around the Corner!


Welcome to the end of summer and the beginning of the best time of year: Autumn! A season of change. This is the time of year so many people look forward to, for many reasons. For some it’s the start of another school year, which means it’s also the start of another football season. How much fun is it to sit in the bleachers on a crisp fall night and cheer on your favorite high school team. Or spend a Saturday afternoon at a local college game. Or even better(not really) waste a good Sunday watching your NFL team lose again! Yes there are good ways and not so good ways to spend the best time of the year. For myself and many others this is THE time of year to be outside, whether it’s working in the garden or yard, getting in some of the best fishing of the year, getting some great photos, or spending some quality time out in the woods with your best buddy, nephew, brother or spouse and the huntin’ dog in search of wild game. Or to sit motionless in your treestand waiting for the right deer to come by, all the while watching the woods go about it’s business that only a quiet observer will get to see.

Yes indeed a season of change. We all notice the days are getting shorter. The weather at this time of year is a bit like those mood swings we experience back in Spring, also a season of change. The temperatures fluctuate from warmer than average to cooler than average as the atmospheric battle goes on between a stubborn summer and relentless autumn. Eventually the shorter days of fall will determine the winner and summer will head to Florida or Texas for a few months to regroup.

The days get shorter which in turn cuts off the chlorophyll(that green stuff) production in leaves, which means all those other pigments can come out and play: reds, oranges, yellows, scarlet, even pinks. We spend lots of drive time and money looking for these colors; for many businesses up north it’s the last big money maker of the year.

Those of us living in central Minnesota, especially in the Avon Hills are blessed to have lots of the right species of trees, shrubs, and even wild grasses residing here. The good Lord puts on a pretty decent art show right here out our back door. And word has it this year’s show should be pretty good. So take some time to get out and see what’s on display, and while you’re at it visit a local apple orchard, we’ve got several in the area.

Another way to spend some time outside on a weekend is to stop by the 7th Annual Avon Hills Rendezvous and Black Powder Shoot held on October 4, 5, and 6 just four miles south of Avon, right smack in the middle of the showy fall colors. This a family learn-by-doing event. Here people have a chance to shoot a black powder gun, shoot a bow, maybe try their hand at throwing a tomahawk, or learn how to start a fire with flint and steel.

For a small fee those with some experience and their own equipment can try for prizes and bragging rights. If you think you’re an expert marksman try out the Primitive Shoot; here small targets like plastic spoons, feathers, pickles, carrots and olives are the target at 12-15 yards. Even though you may not use a shooting rest, this is a very popular event. And be sure to check out the trading post, with handmade items and more.

The big reason for this event was originally to get together with family and friends for a weekend of outdoor fun. It’s grown a bit and now we host it to get people back outside. Studies have shown a disturbing trend: fewer and fewer people are spending time outside, and for this reason many are losing knowledge of the natural world, what it looks like, how it works, and even what’s out there. We also see that spending time outside is better for your emotional as well as your physical health. It’s a great way to get away from the pressures we face every day, to relieve stress, to slow down, and to get some quietness back into your life, maybe rethink some things, or spend some uninterrupted time talking to God. Getting outside can do wonders!

If this sounds like fun you can go to the Black Powder Shoot Link on the website for more information. Feel free to contact us with any questions you might have.

Hope to see you out there,


North to the BWCA

IMG_0729Well summer has been here for a while now in central MN, with lots of moisture early on, high temps and lots of mosquitoes. The grass and garden have been doing quite well. The raspberries are the best ever with over a gallon frozen so far; the peas, zucchini and beans are feeding us, and our 6 foot high heirloom tomatoes are just a few days away from first ripening. The long cold spring we had that delayed the maple syrup season(plus 12 inches of snow in the middle of April) was just a delay and now the weather has definitely pushed things along.

So with everything running well it seemed like a good time for a trip, a canoe trip. Three of us would go: myself, my brother Tim, and his boy Adam. This was Adam’s second trip. The forecast sounded interesting: heat and humidity, rain, and also cooler temps. Yes the weather would be pivotal in the mood of the trip, going from oppressive, to downright nasty, to utterly delightful.

We started on a calm, drizzly, quite warm(80’s), humid Wednesday on Snowbank Lake in the BWCA. It would be the last time anything would be reasonably dry until Friday. We were warned about the mosquitoes on the portages but didn’t have it real bad until the last portage of the day, a 220 rod(320 to the mile) hike. Here the heat, humidity, and bugs joined forces. Since we were double tripping(making two trips to get everything over) we really had a chance to get miserably acquainted with the bugs.


Ensign Lake.

The North country had had a lot of rain and the water levels and mud puddles proved it. Any rocks on the portages were damp and very slippery, which made good footing rare at times. Between the rocks and ankle-deep muddy puddles we all slipped at least once; my worst when I was carrying my day pack and canoe. I tried to go around a puddle and as I planted my left foot it slipped out to my right. As I staggered to my left, my right foot kept me up and then my left brought me back upright. Just barely. And with high water levels come stagnant pools which are ideal for mosquito breeding, which means it’s been one continuous mosquito love fest. The DEET ran right off in our sweat and had to be reapplied frequently, with little effect. At this point our spirits were still good, and we were amazed at the aggressiveness of the bugs. Over the next few days this attitude would change.

We made camp at midday on Ensign Lake on a point that exposed us to any wind that might arise. Baked beans and wild rice brats for supper. The bugs invited themselves to the meal, dining on us. The wind, although invited as well, apparently had a prior commitment, leaving the situation tense. The supply of bug spray was dropping faster than normal, causing one to think of rationing. After supper we clambered into the tent for relief, only to find we had about two dozen tag-alongs that took the better part of a half hour to eliminate. Needless to say the tent was quite stuffy.


Ripe juicy serviceberries.

That first night we had no less than 3 heavy downpours, which soaked anything we had hung out in an attempt to dry. Between the showers could be heard the steady whine of thousands of tiny wings looking for blood.


We saw a good number of eagles in the area.


I was awakened by voices; a party of canoers passing by on their way to the next lake. It was only about 6:30 am. It would be the first of many parties to pass by our campsite over the next two days. Throughout the morning a party would go by about every half hour. I had no idea this was such a popular route. We spent most of the day trying to dry out and relax. Fishing produced only a few hammer-handles. We gathered more firewood down the shore and found that the serviceberries were ripe. They became Adam’s favorite food for the trip. The area we were in was a fairly “young” forest with lots of aspen and younger conifers. It looked like a fire had gone through awhile ago, leaving just scattered white pine. In the fire’s wake sprang up blueberries, raspberries, fireweed, serviceberries and the aspen. Much of it looked like good grouse habitat.

We got out fishing in the afternoon when the weather looked more promising. I went one way in my solo canoe while Adam and Tim moved down a different shore. The wind picked up a bit and then the sky turned dark to the northwest. I was trolling and had a snag just as the weather worsened. I made it to the leeward side of an island just as the gust front ripped across the lake toward me. I pulled up the canoe and turned to see a wall of rain bearing down on me. I got my rain suit on just as it hit. I sat on the island about half an hour before being able to go back out, and then headed west down the lake trolling again. I got a hard bite by a small island, and right away could tell it was a good fish.  At that point I was drifting with the wind and the fish brought the canoe to a stop. It just sat out there like a rock. When it did move I could really feel its power. My rod doubled over several times as it made runs, my drag squealing. It stayed down for quite a while, not giving me a look at all. It felt like a good northern. Finally after several runs it surfaced. A bass? Really? It was a big smallmouth that measured over 21 inches and had a huge potbelly. Somewhere around 5-6 pounds. The largest I’ve ever caught. (my 2nd largest came from Lac la Croix, also in BWCA). That was fun. I’ve heard these big bass this far north can be 20 years old. May it live a few more years I thought as I watched it swim away.

A bit later Tim and Adam caught up with me, having survived the storm at camp and still looking for some fish to eat. We headed further west down the lake to explore and fish. At this point we were all hungry and had no food in the boats. It was then that we saw a neat looking campsite and paddled over to check it out. What we found was a nice site with a perimeter of serviceberry shrubs. We picked and picked till we each probably ate well over a pint of berries.IMG_0565


Ominous looking storm clouds.

We went back to fishing and split up again. They headed back toward camp and I explored some of the empty campsites and found some really nice ones to keep in mind in the future. I eventually headed back to camp without any fish.

Later in the day the weather began to turn wet again with numerous showers, which meant we would eventually have to wait till quite late to make supper since we needed a fire to cook pork chops. It was then that the nasty weather showed up. The menacing clouds brought premature twilight and quite a light show. The rumbling of thunder increased in volume and was obviously headed our way. The next thing we know we have marble sized hail and then the gust front which brought horizontal rain. The ensuing downpour left us with a torrent running through camp you could kayak down. By the time it was over the sun and the wind had gone down. This allowed the bugs to move in. They really gathered around the fire’s heat, right where we were cooking, and no body parts were off-limits to them. Once again they ignored the bug spray, which became quite annoying. The best we could do was walk around the campsite with our plate, eating on the run. Again this was marginally successful. Things were said. At the end of the trip Adam would comment about this meal; how the food was good and everyone was walking around trying to eat, cussing the bugs!


End of the storms, at sunset.

The next day the high pressure that trailed the storms moved in with good NW winds and drier air, so we took a day trip to look for trout, which took us over a neat 180 rod portage and two shorter ones that had tough landing sites. Missionary Lake runs east and west with water clarity over 20 feet. We drifted with the wind dragging heavy spoons down deep, hoping for a hit. Halfway down off a point I hooked a laker that stayed deep quite awhile before I first got a glimpse of it about 15 feet down. Tim’s digital scale put it at 2.75 pounds.IMG_0638 Enough for a meal. We fished a bit longer then portaged over to another lake with brook trout but had no luck there. We made decent time heading back to camp into the stiff headwind, stopping on a neat high open point for firewood. The wind kept most of the bugs at bay and the temps dropped as we enjoyed grilled trout and wild rice before nodding off.IMG_0649

The next morning we had wild blueberry pancakes and maple syrup and then headed back toward Snowbank for one more day. The day was sunny and calm and as we crossed Ensign we saw a party of four canoes about half a mile down the lake to the west and because of the mirage effect they appeared to be floating above the water, with an occasional glint of sunlight off a paddle catching your eye.IMG_0676


Adam with his supper.


One last fire.

About two hours later we set up camp on the NE shore of Snowbank just off the outlet that leads to Ensign. We had great weather and spent the day fishing, gathering a couple nice smallmouth. We wanted one more for supper so Adam went out in the solo canoe in the early evening and came back with a keeper. The bugs left us alone long enough to eat and enjoy the evening fire one more time before heading home in the morning.

The last night was chilly, and we were up with the sun. We savored the last hours at the campsite before departing. It was a sunny morning as we crossed Snowbank one more time, and we had the lake to ourselves for most of the 3 mile paddle. A cool breeze kicked up and it felt good to want a long-sleeved shirt to brace against it. As a final gesture we were treated to a gathering of 6 eagles on a small island just a few hundred yards off our landing. We talked about that as we headed down the road. And talked about the next trip…


Get outside,


Spring Just Around the Corner?

Well here we are, it’s the middle of March, the month when Spring arrives. A lot of people have been looking forward to these upcoming warmer days since December, looking forward to planting their garden, mowing the grass, swatting mosquitoes, and wearing sandals again. Spring, being a time of renewal, comes with longer days and gradually warmer daytime temperatures. Of course these conditions help melt our snow cover and warm the soil so life can “start over”. Start over. Think about what that means. Warmer days, the snow going away; getting out in the yard, the songbirds returning. What will you plant this year? Digging in the garden and experiencing the aroma of freshly turned soil wafting through the air; the buzz of insects reaching your ears. The sound of your neighbor’s lawn mower at 9:00 am Sunday morning. Those wonderful seasonal scents that are released as the April showers thaw the last glacial remnants on the north side of the garage. Ahh, the chance to be outside working in the yard and actually sweating! The sting of your first mosquito bite! And finally let’s not forget that wonderful aroma that arrives as people get their grills out of hibernation!

But hang on a minute! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Being a Black Powder Beagle (as I am) requires that you do things differently, that you think differently, that you act differently- check the BPB Membership guidelines!  So even though I lament the end of another winter, I do look forward to March because I like pancakes. Huh? And I like to put real maple syrup on my pancakes. OK. So what do pancakes and maple syrup have to do with March?

Well quite a bit actually. You see, I (and many other like-minded people) like to spend at this time of year lots of time in the company of trees, more precisely sugar maples. Because we like maple syrup. Really. By spending time in the company of sugar maples I don’t mean we hang out in the woods and talk them into giving up maple syrup. No, although they are good listeners we don’t talk to them. Well, maybe a little.

If you didn’t know, you may have figured out by now that real maple syrup comes from sugar maple trees. Nowhere else. And Spring(March) is the time of year when maple syrup is produced. Why March? Well it’s a combination of many factors, most being related to the weather. This time of year as the Earth is warming in the northern hemisphere(where we live) the atmosphere becomes unstable causing those weather “mood swings” we experience. Warm up, cool down, warm up, cool down. Wind, snow, rain, sleet, you name we probably get it in March.

It’s these mood swings in the temperatures that give us maple syrup. The sap begins to run in the trunks of the trees under the right conditions. Typically when the daytime temperatures reach the forty degree mark and the night-time temps dip below freezing we have the right conditions to produce maple syrup.

Real maple syrup has only one ingredient: sap.

Real maple syrup has only one ingredient: sap.

Maple syrup doesn’t come out of the tree as syrup; it begins as tree sap that is mostly water. Getting sap from the trees is fairly simple: drill a small hole into the tree, tap a spile(spout) into the hole, and hang a bag or bucket beneath to collect the sap. When you have a sufficient quantity of sap you put it into a large container and boil it down till it’s done. Maple syrup.

While that’s a generalized description of the process- I’ve left out several important guidelines to follow; the process that was handed down to us by the Native Americans centuries ago remains unchanged. A fairly simple process.

Boiling off the extra water.

Boiling off the extra water.

Lots of wood to cook the sap

Lots of wood to cook the sap

A fairly simple but time-consuming process. Raw sap right out of the tree on the average contains only about 2% sugar, the remaining 98% contains water and a few minerals and vitamins. To get to maple syrup we need to raise the sugar content to about 66%, give or take. That means we need to remove a lot of water, by boiling it off. And it will take somewhere around 40 gallons of that raw sap to give us one gallon of syrup. That’s a lot of cooking, but it’s time and energy well spent. Outdoors. It’s another of the traditions that we enjoy. A process and tradition that’s not well-known to most, but is very satisfying when the weather cooperates.

When the weather cooperates. This year our winter started a bit slow but has gained momentum the last month or so. Usually by this time our snow pack is declining. This year, it’s still growing. Yes, March brings us snow, but usually that snow is short-lived. Not this year: temperatures for the month are running 10-15 degrees cooler than average; two days ago the snow here at home measured 14 inches deep in the woods. And as I’m writing this we are about 9 hours into a blizzard warning. Go figure. Minnesota weather. The 51 taps(spiles) we have out will have to wait a bit longer.

Time well spent.

Time well spent.

If you are in the area and are interested in seeing the maple syrup process firsthand go to for times and days that are available. However, until it warms up enough for the sap to run, tours will not be available. Watch the weather and check back.