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 www.treehousestudiomn.com 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.


Farewell to a Friend

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe winter woods, the woods that we frequent in search of rabbits, has been a bit quieter the last two hunting seasons due to a retirement. And just recently they’ve become even quieter as we mourn the passing of that retiree. Our Buddy, the Rabbinator, the Bunny Bouncer, the original Black Powder Beagle is gone. He had been on a slow decline for almost two years, due mainly to arthritis in his hips and knees, but other issues arose that would finely tell us it was time to say goodbye. Looking back, Buddy had a good life, a good run. And let me tell you there was a lot of running at times.

Buddy was the only survivor of his litter, so he got a lot of attention from his mom. It wasn’t until later we realized that because he was an “only child”  he never had to develop any sort of competitiveness; there was always plenty of food with no siblings to compete with. So Buddy was not aggressive at all toward anybody. He was always very gentle, even with young kids. Our neighbor kids loved him; often they would knock on the door to see if Buddy could come out and play. I could pull his full food dish out from under him with no repercussions. However he would certainly defend himself when needed, especially when it came to his food dish and other dogs. Beagles love to eat. It’s one of their hobbies.

Buddy was often quick to learn; about a week after we got him as a pup he did something we didn’t want him doing and so I said  “Bad dog.” in a stern voice. He immediately dropped his ears and hung his head looking absolutely like the proverbial pathetic little puppie. It was all I could not to pick him up and tell him it was OK. Puppies are like that. As I said he tended to learn quick and house training was fairly easy; once trained the only time he made a mess in the house was when he was ill and would vomit, but even then he would try to make it to the door, even up to his last hours.

Early on I knew I had a good future hunter. Living out in the country like we do made training him easy; just let him loose in the yard. Rabbits were plentiful. I remember the first time I introduced him to the gun. I used a .22 rimfire because it’s not as loud as a shotgun; loud noises early on could make him gun-shy. I was out in the yard with him and I waited until he was about 30 yards away, aimed at the ground and pulled the trigger. At the report he came running to see what was going on, with his tail wagging like crazy. I just smiled. By the end of his first hunting season he knew the sight and sound of the gun meant fun and adventure.

Being a beagle his nose led him everywhere and he quickly learned to backtrack back to me by following his own scent. As he got older and gained experience he would venture out for longer periods of time. I don’t remember his first rabbit but he put two and two together and that was all it took. From then on just the sight of a gun would get him howling by the front door, with excitement that could only mean “Come on let’s go, let’s go!” He wore a bell in the woods so I could keep track of him, although that was laughable at times. Before we would leave for a hunt I would put the bell on his collar. First I would take the bell out of the cabinet and ring it a few times, and he would come running. Then he would sit down in front of me and wait “patiently” while I removed his collar, put the bell on and put the collar back on his quivering neck. At that point the excitement was almost too much for him. Yes, running rabbits was his favorite hobbie, above all else.

He went by many names out in the field: Buddy the Bunny Bouncer, the Rabbinator, Relentless Buddy-Boy. He was all business once into good rabbit territory, and I could count on him to give 150%. Like my buddy Sam would say, “Buddy could be right next to you and if you were trying to get his attention  while he was on a rabbit scent you had no chance of being heard. He was hardcore.” Hard core indeed. If we got a rabbit he would often give it a quick cursory sniff then be off to find another. No ceremony; all business. And I remember one time trying to track him down after he got on a deer scent, which was bad news. Over the years I found if I ever lost track of him the best way to locate him was by sound; that wonderful beagle braying. Anyway this time it was almost an hour before I heard from him and he was so far away I had to go back to the truck and drive in his direction to catch up. When I finally caught up, there he was working a trail and no amount of shouting would get his attention from only 20 feet away, and he was moving too fast for me to physically stop him. So I shot into the air. That worked, but he followed me to the truck reluctantly.

Another time when he was nine years old we were on snowshoes because of the deep snow. Buddy was sinking up to the top of his back when he wasn’t following in our tracks. At times all I could see was the tip of his tail whipping back and forth as he followed the scent on the rabbit runs, and sometimes I couldn’t see him at all but I could hear him breathing like a steam engine, the Little Engine that could, and did. After two hours of tough hunting we made our way to a field that had hard drifts on it. Buddy made his way to a drift and proceeded to roll on his back most luxuriously while making happy snorting sounds. Then he jumped up, shook himself off, looked at me with wagging tail and took off in search of rabbits. Still having fun after two hours of snow up to his neck. I just laughed and shook my head in awe. It always amazed me how a dog weighing less than 30 pounds could have so much toughness and stamina. There were many times when I would find flecks of blood in his tracks because he had worn his pads raw. It never slowed him down. He loved to run rabbits.

After 2 hours of deep snow, Buddy's still feeling good.

After 2 hours of deep snow, Buddy’s still feeling good.

One woods we’ve hunted many times has a field between the woods and where we park. Typically when it was time to head home I would call him over and he would follow me back to the truck, his little bell jingling behind me. If the jingling stopped I would stop and see what was going on. At this woods it usually meant Buddy had spotted the truck, which meant he would stop and sit down, refusing to go any further(home). When I called him to come he would look at me and not budge. Upon further urging with a stern voice he would look at me, then look over his shoulder back at the woods, then back at me as if trying to decide what to do. Eventually he would give in and with a look of resignation follow me back to the truck where he would immediately fall asleep. Every once in a while he would run out of gas like a lithium-ion battery: go-go-go and then just like that no more. He would turn around a few times in place and then lie down, done for the day, which meant I had to carry him to the truck, sometimes up to a quarter-mile, with him asleep in my arms.

Buddy always gave 150 percent.

Buddy always gave 150 percent.

And I learned to trust that nose of his. His eyes and ears were as good as any, especially the ears. But like our eyes and ears they could be tricked into thinking we saw or heard something we didn’t. But not that nose. If Buddy indicated he smelled something you could bet it was there, had just been there, or had been there in the last 18? hours. And he could obviously figure out which scent was the freshest, which one to follow. It might take him awhile to figure it out, which is how he came to get the name Relentless Buddy Boy. His nose never failed him in his later years. The eyes and ears began to fail him like they do, but his nose worked just fine.

Another nick name for Buddy was Houdini as he was very good at finding his way into or out of our fenced in backyard. We put in the fence because of his nose; there were way too many cross-country workouts for my legs, seemingly at the most inopportune times. He fit through openings in that fence that a rabbit would have a hard time getting through. Drove me nuts.

Scientists tell us there are only a few species of animals that use tools to get things done. I would like to add beagles to that list. A little background here. At one time we had two beagles: Buddy, and Boomer who came to us when Buddy was four. Boomer was with us only 4 years but that’s another story. Then five years ago we added a chocolate lab by the name of Mocha. He’s a real sweetheart. Anyway by the time Boomer had arrived Buddy had claimed the house as his territory, and the couch for napping(another hobbie), especially when one of us was sitting on it. If Buddy was on the couch next to us it meant that all of the couch and anything within 4 feet of it were off-limits to all other four-legged critters. Entering this airspace caused a reaction in Buddy that reminded you of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Whoa! Well, sometimes, when the planets became misaligned, Boomer, or in later years Mocha would get to the coveted warm spot next to us on the couch before Buddy got there. Now remember Buddy was not aggressive, so he didn’t charge in with teeth blazing. He would sit down, grumble, grouse, and throw in a woof! while rocking back and forth on his haunches. He would look at us for help, but not get any because we were snickering by this time. He would go silent for a moment, then get up and search the house till he found one of the dog toys. With this he would lie down in front of the couch and proceed to thoroughly enjoy himself as he shook it and tossed it into the air. Boomer would see the fun going on without him and jump down to play. There would be a playful tug of war which Buddy always “lost.” Happy, victorious Boomer would start chewing on the toy while Buddy slowly but deliberately took his place on the couch next to us! The first time we saw this we looked at each other and said “What just happened? Did I really see that?” Buddy would dupe Boomer and Mocha several times over the years. True story.

Finally, Buddy was a bit of a hero to some of us, not because he was so hardcore in the field, although he did introduce a number of people to fun,  successful rabbit hunting. He did it by being a friendly dog. His tail was always wagging, even around strangers. His motto was “Win ’em over with friendliness”. With a face like that and a happy-go-lucky-attitude it hardly ever failed. Small people adored him and were drawn to him, and the feeling was mutual. And if the small unknowing child got too rough, Buddy didn’t snarl, he just walked away. Our neighbors have children that grew up with Buddy, and they would come over to play with him, letting us know if Buddy got bored with them and had headed off into the woods. Even as late as two months ago, when I had let him out to putt around the yard and he had wandered down the shared driveway they brought him to the house, thinking he had somehow gotten out when we were at work. I literally heard the disappointment in their voices when they saw that I was home and they couldn’t play with him, even from the older siblings who are in highschool.

And many years ago we went camping with my sister and her young daughter who was about 6 or 7 at the time. Young Kenzie was scared to death of dogs, but we brought Buddy anyway. When the weekend was over Kenz and Buddy were best buds. Kenzie, now in college would eventually live in a household of many dogs, big and small, both inside and out, and has her own Yorkie that she adores. And she has a photo of her and Buddy from that camping trip that she keeps on a shelf in her room.  Buddy’s beagle charm won her over.

Kenzie and Buddy- best buds.

Kenzie and Buddy- best buds.

To be sure there are memories of Buddy that aren’t as fun or pleasant. Anyone who as ever owned a dog knows this. But what’s the point, it’s not the bad memories we remember so much anyway. It’s the good ones that made an impact on us, that we miss now. The tail, the greeting at the door, the happy howling, the “helpfulness”, the games of tag, the snuggling on the couch, the comical antics, the winter woodland music, the exciting hunts, always glad to see you. We get so much more out of the good, even if it’s a dog.

In the end, on that day I knew it was over, the vet just confirmed it for me. I had to go it without my wife, who couldn’t get away from work. Some people say that smells can bring back memories better than sights or sounds. For a dog that’s probably true. In his final moments Buddy’s nose, that wonderful nose was still working, still sniffing, so I made sure I was the last thing he smelled before he crossed the field into the woods.

Somewhere I was reading about the beagle breed; the author suggested that beagles are big dogs in small bodies. Yep. Thanks Mr. Bud.


It’s Rondy Time!!

It’s that time of year again; the days are getting shorter, the temps are dropping and so are the leaves. The fall colors are beginning to show their stuff as chlorophyll production shuts down. Cooler temps during the day encourage long sleeves. A fire in the wood stove takes the chill out of the morning downstairs. In the gardens the tomato plants have been cranking out those beautiful red, juicy, flavorful gems that we will be longing for in February, the last round of big, plump ruby-red raspberries are upon us, as are the last of the peppers, and anything else the deer haven’t eaten.

At times the kitchen smells of wonderful things: tomatoes being readied for canning for salsa, chili, or spaghetti sauce, of apples being turned into that homemade sauce that beats anything from a store, of one more batch of raspberry, plum, chokecherry, or grape jelly, of those cool weather “comfort” foods we all love this time of year.

Outside the grass has slowed down(ours never really dried up this summer, even without watering; we have heavy soil), the summer perennials have sung their song, providing color for the yard and table, the mums and asters are just beginning to start their show. And the smell of fresh-cut grass has a different aroma to it than it did in July- the smell of fall, of football, of drier air, of the fun that is yet to come before the snow arrives.

The woods and waters are different too. There is an aroma of death and decay that strangely enough gets you excited, energized, especially if you like to pursue wild game with the hopes of providing the table with tasty meals. Your senses are heightened, you seem to notice little things that were passed over a month ago. Little things noticed that could now, during the hunting season mean the difference between going home with food for the table or just having a good day in the woods. Yes, even a day without game to bring home is still a good day. Especially in the fall.

On the waters things have been changing as well. Just two weeks ago we finished up our wild rice season, having a great year(for us), wishing we had more time to pull in some more, to watch the woodies and mallards jump up right before us, so full of rice some had difficulty gaining altitude. And marveling at the vast numbers of Soras(shorebird) that waited until the bow of the canoe was upon them before popping up and flying just as far as they needed to get out of our way.

Even though they were competing for the same rice, it was fun to watch the flowing, undulating, squeaking flocks of red-winged blackbirds in flocks of several hundred that at times appeared to be a single organism with their perfectly synchronized twisting and turning flight resembling a giant, air-borne leech as they roam about the rice looking for the best feast. All day long. A wild rice bed in the late summer is a super market for many species; luckily there’s enough to go around.

It’s that time of year again, when the Black Powder Beagles put on their annual Black Powder Shoot. This year’s event is October 13th and 14th. Again south of Avon, MN. Here we get out and do a little camping, shooting, eating, and generally have good clean fun. Did I mention the public is invited? Our event is held for fun, but as per our BPB mission, it’s an educational event as well. Many people are not all that familiar with black powder, so we demonstrate how to load and shoot. If someone who’s never shot one before wants to give it a try we’ll take them through it step by step. We have traditional guns as well as modern inlines on hand. We also have a variety of archery equipment to try, again showing people how-to. And there’s more. For more info see our Black Powder Shoot page where you’ll see photos from the past as well as this year’s poster. This year’s schedule of events will be on the site soon, check back…

Get out and enjoy what’s been given us,


Back to the BWCA

After a three year hiatus, my wife and I were able to get back to the BWCA. Three years, whatever the reason is just too long. We explored some new territory this year, heading north out of Sawbill Lake up into Cherokee Lake country. It’s about 8 miles to Cherokee, and the route takes you through small lakes and creeks, with only a few portages, the longest 180 rods(320 to the mile).

A nice end to a portage in the BWCA. North Temperance Lake.

The portages were fun, not difficult, and have good character, sometimes overlooking beaver ponds or valleys, often lined with bunchberries which appear to be at their peak of blooming. Along the waterways we spotted good-sized clumps of blue flag iris in full bloom as well as pitcher plant blooms. Wildlife included gulls, geese, countless loons, two moose, beaver, eagles, drumming grouse, a snapping turtle that tried to lay eggs under our fire grate, wolf and moose prints, and a number of songbirds(by song) including ovenbirds, white-throated sparrow, robins, least flycatchers and winter wrens.

Our weather went from warm and sunny to rain, to horizontal rain, to high winds and fog that made the lake look as though we were in the middle of whiteout conditions during a blizzard, to temps in the mid forties. Hot drinks and snacks were quite welcome on those days.


The bunchberries were in full bloom.

We spent some time exploring and found a neat little trout lake up a steep log choked portage that doesn’t get much use. Although I caught no fish I need to go back to that one! Nearby is some of the highest and steepest terrain I’ve seen in the BWCA. One little lake appeared to be at the bottom of a granite quarry. Needless to say the portages in that area were quite rocky, and with the humidity being high and the portages being shaded the rocks never dried out, making for some slippery conditions. In those instances you really tend to watch your feet while you are hefting a pack and canoe. It was here along a 100 rod portage about half way through a 13 mile day trip that the portage yoke thwart on the canoe broke, landing the canoe on my head, throwing me for a loop and causing me to struggle to maintain my balance on the rocks, straining a muscle in my back in the process. After a few choice phrases I reached into my pack to put on a long-sleeved shirt because the mosquitoes were taking advantage of the situation and the DEET I had applied on the last portage had since been rinsed off by my sweat and my wife had the DEET in her pack 50 rods ahead. Low and behold in my pack was the duct tape which I thought was 7 miles away at camp. AHA! We were able to double carry the canoe(not easy when you can’t avoid stepping on uneven wet rocks) to the end of the portage where there was a breeze and the DEET. I found a short piece of curved beaver wood that fit the curve of the yoke and made Red Green proud with my liberal use of duct tape. We were able to finish the day and the trip with the splinted yoke. The trip ended in typical fashion: we started the trip into a head wind, so why not finish the trip the same way. Making good time coming out we also made good time on the drive home and made it to my niece’s graduation party by 7:30. It was a long and full day. And a fun trip!


Here we go!

Welcome to the Black Powder Beagles webpage. Here you can find out who we are, what we do, our philosophy, learn how to become a member, and maybe find a way back to your roots; see how traditional values and methods are still relevant today. You can also join our discussions and share ideas. Finally be sure to browse our BPB Images link to see our photography. The website is a work in progress so check back to see recent updates and check out upcoming events and seasons.

Aim small,