What I Do in the Winter

People are always asking me what I do in all winter in the woods in the UP. This post and the next ones to follow will help answer this question.

Lake Ecology 101

This winter Rochelle and I took a 6 week online lakes ecology coarse hosted by Michigan State University. Rochelle is the administrator of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve and they do water monitoring on the Yellow Dog River in case of erosion, mine leaking, or other foreign waste entering the river. They also do water monitoring on Lake Independence which the Yellow Dog flows into and then on into Lake Superior.

Each week we received a new lesson with videos, activities, a discussion forum and a quiz which we had to receive an 80% or higher. For instance, on week one we learned the terms oligotrophic, mesotrophic, eutrophic, different stages of a lake’s life. In later weeks, we learned about lake laws, buffer zones, invasive species, and everything we need to know about promoting lake health.

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Baking in the Woods

This year I got a cook book for Christmas from Jan and Rochelle. I have now been cooking almost every day. I have made some interesting breakfasts: toast with avocado spread and a sunny side up egg on top, peach and blackberry yogurt smoothies, granola bars, but usually I make desserts, cookies, banana and ginger bread. Cooking also helps with math. Often, I halve or double a recipe so I calculate fractions while measuring.

Baking is not so easy in the woods. We don’t have an electric or gas oven, but instead we have a wood cook stove. So, when I want to bake, I first have to go split wood and then build the fire. We can’t preset a temperature for the stove. I have to monitor it the whole time and add wood as needed to maintain the temperature. Most of my baking has turned out except for the one goopy clumpy ginger bread.

Before baking

Before baking

After baking

After baking

Yellow Dog Ski Trip

Photo taken by Jay Johnson one of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve members

Last month the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve hosted their Annual Yellow Dog Ski Trip. Fourteen skiers met at the end our driveway off of county road 510. For the first part of our trip, we took a trail into the foothills of the Huron Mountains (some of the oldest mountains in the country) that overlooks the Yellow Dog valley with an occasional glimpse of Lake Superior. Whoever was breaking trail up the beginning 1.5-mile hill struggled and could only go for a little bit. When we came out of the high hills, it was not long before we arrived at the river itself. The day before we had found a good lunch spot on a bluff overlooking the river and packed down an area for the fire. When we got there, Rochelle and her grandchildren had already built a fire for us. For the second half of the trip we stayed along the Yellow Dog. It was a beautiful day. The sky was clear and blue, and the sun shining on the river made it look like the water was sparkling. Since we were along the river there were a lot ravines which made for steep hills where a lot of us crashed. In the end, it was a 5-hour ski, about twenty degrees in the afternoon, and we all made it out safely.

Lunch around the fire. Photo taken by Jay Johnson

Lunch around the fire. Photo taken by Jay Johnson

A Timber Frame Project

In December, Jan and I and some other friends went to John and Victoria Jungwirth’s, along the Mulligan River and Mulligan Escarpment, for a traditional barn raising party. (This is also where I went last winter to learn about rabbit snaring.) In the old days, families would come from miles away and have a big party to help another family build their house, barn or shop. Timber framing was the old building technique dating back to medieval times using hand cut timbers and pegs. Mostly the timbers are joined together with mortices, tenons and various notches.

To get to John and Victoria’s house, we had to walk a mile on their packed snowmobile trail through a black spruce forest. This was to be a big day for John. He had been planning and preparing to build his shop for 20 years. During that time, he had cut the timbers, squared what needed to be squared, cut the notches, and numbered the logs in particular categories. John cut his logs and timbers with hand tools, probably using the same kinds as they did in the medieval days: chisels, axes and hand drills. One of my jobs was unburying the timbers from 4 feet of snow. Another one of my jobs was knocking the snow off a tree with a 15-foot pole so the snow would not fall on us while we were building. We assembled the timbers as one piece and raised the frame. I hung onto a rope that was connected to the frame in case it began falling backwards. It took 8 of us to lift the frames. After all the wall frames were up, we spent some time fine tuning the pegs and notches. At the end of the day, we had a large fancy dinner that Victoria made us and a sauna. We spent the night, ate a huge breakfast and went back to work putting up the rafters and ceiling beams. John was a happy man after that weekend.

The first frame is in place

Here we are about to set up a frame

This is how far we got the first day

The rafters are going up!

Deer Season 2018: A Learning Experience

This year I got an apprentice hunting license which allowed me to go hunting with Jan. Even before hunting season began, Jan and I went out looking for deer signs: good trails, rubs and scrapes, deer beds, deer tracks and places where they had eaten. We found a good trail that led down to the river, and we set up a trail camera along it. We soon discovered that the deer were mostly coming out at night.

Mother and a fawn

Mother and a fawn

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Later, we moved the camera to a different location and got more really cool pictures.

Deer in snow storm

Deer in snow storm

One of the only daytime pictures

One of the only daytime pictures

Buck and doe

Buck and doe

These nighttime pictures would not be possible without Gorge Shiras, who in 1889 pioneered what became known as wildlife photography. The first pictures he took were on the shores of White Fish Lake which is near Marquette, Michigan, his favorite region. He was the first to successfully take nighttime wildlife pictures. Ten of his nighttime photographs were featured at a Paris exhibition in 1900 and then at the World’s Fair in 1904. In 1906, his work was featured in National Geographic and he became internationally famous. Shiras was good at stalking wildlife with his camera because he had been trained as a hunter as a young boy. He shot his first deer at age twelve, but as an adult he traded in his gun for a camera.   

We knew where to put our trail cam because there were several rubs and scrapes. In early fall, bucks rub their antlers on small resilient trees to rub the dried velvet off. They have this cover on their antlers called velvet that appears as they begin to grow new antlers in the spring. Velvet is a membrane filled with blood vessels that nourish the antlers while they grow. At this time, the antlers are very sensitive. Once the antlers reach their full growth, the velvet dries and this is when they rub. The dried velvet must feel like peeling skin after a sun burn. Later in the fall, they rub their antlers in preparation to fight other bucks. These are the rubs we see. As they do this, it strengthens their necks, and when they fight their necks act as a shock absorber. You can often judge how big the buck is by how big the rub is. Bucks lose their antlers after mating season in early winter. This is why some Native American tribes named one of the months of the year, the Moon When Bucks Drop Their Antlers. There are also scrapes. This is when a deer paws the ground with his two front feet. Scrapes are almost always done under a hanging branch. There are many ideas as to why deer do this, but only deer really know.

Buck rub on a 3 inch diameter hemlock

Buck rub on a 3 inch diameter hemlock

Buck scrape about a foot in diameter

Buck scrape about a foot in diameter

Hunters, either with a gun or a camera, need to know as much as possible about the animals they are tracking. To find deer, one should know that they have incredible smelling abilities. A blood hound has 200 million olfactory sensors, and a deer has 297 million. A deer can smell 60 times better then we can. A deer’s sight is not much better than ours; however, they are experts at detecting slight bits of motion. Deer also hear extremely well. Their big ears are constantly moving and turning in order to pinpoint the slightest sound. The average life span for a doe, a female deer, is 8 to 12 years. However, there are records of a black tailed female deer who lived in captivity and made it to 22 years old. On the other hand, bucks, male deer, are not likely to make it past 4 ½ years due to hunting. Generally, the larger species of deer live to be older.  

Deer track in the wet sand

Deer track in the wet sand

Even though I never got a deer, Jan and I ran into some neat places. The first time I went out with him, we came across what we called a beaver clear cut. Four inches in diameter aspens had been chewed down and covered the landscape. The trees that had not been chewed down made it so dense it was easy to get lost. There were all kinds of beaver roads. One went right down a cliff that led to the river. One day we got within 20 yards of two does, but we are only allowed to shoot bucks. Another day, we found 5 fresh deer beds, a melted deer sized oval in the snow. Even though hunting was a great learning experience, it was also really hard. I was always cold because we were either sitting or moving excruciatingly slowly, and being quiet was a challenge in knee high snow. In a way, hunting puts a hunter in the animal world.

Drone Update

After two months of drying, Sarah tested the drone — AND IT WORKS!

 Even though we could never use any of the footage for the Story Map, (water damaged the SD card) the Story Map turned out great. A few weeks ago, the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve hosted their annual meeting and presented the Story Map for the first time. Here is the link:

Wild and Scenic Yellow Dog River

You could also go to the YDWP website for more detailed information. Here’s that link:

http://www.yellowdogwatershed.org

Before the drowning of the drone, Sarah and her friend John went on a filming expedition in the McCormick Wilderness Area. Still, we didn’t get a film because we had the wrong SD card. On the good, Brian captured the moment in video.

Drone Adventure

The Drowning of the Drone

In August, Sarah (who lives a few miles down the road from us) was loaned a drone by her friend. She invited Brian who lives at Jan and Rochelle’s traditional camp and I to go with her to the Yellow Dog River with the drone, spend the night, and take some cool aerial footage of the head waters of the river. We wanted this footage for Rochelle to use in her story map project that celebrates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. A few days before all of this we were test flying the drone and had some mishaps, like getting the drone stuck in trees or the drone almost running out of battery while still in the air. But Sarah eventually figured how to fly it.

The drone

The drone

The next day we drove to the trail head and began our 6-mile hike to the head waters. At the very beginning, we ran into a patch of chokecherries that probably slowed us down a lot because we could not stop eating them. At times the hike was hard. Part of the trail was flooded, our packs were heavy, and it was hot and humid. After 6 miles, we made it to Bulldog Lake, the head waters of the Yellow Dog River. When we got there, all we could think about was going swimming. Brian went right in. I had a little hesitation but I went in too. We then built our tarp shelter which was like a lean to. As we were building, we kept seeing pieces of bark falling out of this big pine tree. I went over to investigate. I think it was a porcupine but I actually never saw it. Later, I made a fishing pole from dental floss, a small tree, some wire we found, and beef jerky for bait. I never caught a fish, but it was fun.

Me fishing

Me fishing

Bull Dog Lake

Bull Dog Lake

Taking down our camp in the rain

Taking down our camp in the rain

In the evening, we flew the drone and got some cool videos, but while we were flying it back, the remote controller was telling us that the drone was almost out of battery. So, we tried to fly it back as fast as we could; however, as we were landing it, I asked Sarah to film me trying to catch it. This took too much time. Then the controller was telling us critical battery, but the drone was still 20 feet in the air and a little over the water. It was right in front of me, but it was still too far. Next, it was a foot above the water just hovering. We tried to bring it back, but it starting to dip in the water, so we put the drone at full speed and full altitude hoping it would make to shore. For a moment, it was like a jet ski skimming the water but then it suddenly stopped and sank. Brian and I were taking our shoes and socks off, but Sarah dove in with all her clothes on. She grabbed the drone by the propeller and trudged to shore. As quick as we could we removed the battery, hoping none of the footage was lost. Sarah was soaked, and she had no extra clothing, but luckily Brian had some spare rain pants.

 

 

That night around the fire all we could talk about was how we crashed the drone. Drones are expensive and we worried that we may have lost the film. At midnight, Sarah woke us up. There was a big storm coming with thunder and lightning, and our shelter was not equipped for it. So, we all got up and began adding dead limbs and balsam bows to the front and sides. We were so tired afterwards that we all just crashed. After we woke again, it was raining, and there were puddles of water in my shoes. The rain became harder and harder. We realized either we were going to have to stay another night or just head out and deal with being wet. We chose walking out. The hike out was much harder than the hike in. It started hailing on us. We got a mile or more off track, and our packs were even heavier because now they were wet.

 

When I first saw the car, I began running. I took my pack off and everything that was wet except for my long underwear. After 6 miles of hiking in constant rain, we were sopping. Getting in the warm car was the best feeling ever. Needless to say, we survived the adventure, but we’re still not sure about the drone or the film, and we still talk about the lessons we learned and what we would do differently next time.

Sun set over Bull Dog Lake

Sun set over Bull Dog Lake

History at Fort Pontchartrain

As soon as I came back from Arizona, Jan and I began packing for a reenactment along Lake St. Clair which is the largest fresh water lake that is not one of the Great Lakes. From where we set up, you could see Canada and Detroit. Ft. Pontchartrain was built in 1701 where Detroit now stands. It was the center of the fur trade in the Midwest and was used as the main military base for the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812. This has always been an important place in American history. 12 to 15 years later, when Ft. Michilimackinac was built, it became the center of the northern Great Lakes fur trade. The reenactment was started to remind people of the early French history of Michigan and how they lived. During our time there, I got to see a match lock, flint lock, and percussion lock muzzle loaders. I even saw a wheel lock which I had never heard about. They were invented after match locks. At some point, a guy came up to me and let me hold his match lock. It was really heavy. Match lock guns look very different from any other muzzle loading gun. After the reenactment, we were invited to spend the night at a friend’s house who is a collector. Spending the night at his house was amazing; his whole upstairs was like a museum. He had guns from the Dutch time in America all the way to World War II. He also had beautiful paintings on every wall. His house was awesome. Next month we will continue our historical reenacting.

Here is me holding a match lock gun from the 1650s

Here is me holding a match lock gun from the 1650s

From East to West

On August 19th, I flew from Tucson, Arizona all the way back to the UP by myself where Jan and family friend, Brian, were waiting for me. I had just spent the summer with my family helping them move from Connecticut to Arizona. To get to Arizona, we packed up our house into a pod (a huge moving container) and shipped it off to our new house. After preparing to move, we took a two-week long road trip to get out west. Along the way, we stopped at Gettysburg and got to see the battle fields, the weapons, and the surgical tools that I wrote about in my weapons blog last spring. We took a two-hour bus tour of the battlefield and the memorials that were placed strategically to honor all the soldiers that died in battle.

Another highlight of our trip was Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. We took a tour down into the caves. I think it was 500 steps down. When we got to the bottom it was like we weren’t on earth anymore. It was just amazing.

During our first two weeks in Arizona, we went to some really cool places, like an air and space museum, a desert zoo, and some fun swimming pools with water slides, huge diving boards, splash pads, and salt water pools. When I got to see our new home, which is a bed and breakfast, I was shocked. It was so much different than our old home but yet so cool. I got to stay in our new home for about a month and I came to appreciate it. At one point, it got to 115 degrees. It was almost like a mild sauna but without the steam. But as always, all times must come to an end. So, after a super fun summer, I came back to Michigan and a new fun adventure begins. 

   
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  This is Arizona

This is Arizona

A Brief History About Early American War

We began studying history with the French and the Indians in the new world. The reason we chose to start with the French and the Indians is because I am a victim of Jan’s interest. We live in the middle of the old French and Indian fur trade area and we are surrounded by French and Indian place names.

The movie The Last of the Mohicans and Black Robe got me interested with the French and the Indian war. What I liked the most were the kinds of weapons that they used. When the French came from Europe they brought smoothbore muzzleloaders, iron tomahawks, iron knives, and swords. Smoothbore muzzleloaders were the most common guns of those times because you could shoot them like a shotgun or you could shoot a large lead caliber ball. People also liked smoothbore muzzleloaders because they were the only gun you could put pellets and a lead ball and shoot a moose or a duck without carrying two guns.

Every gun needs a firing mechanism and that’s the lock. The earliest lock invented was the match lock and was the first type brought to the new world in the 1600s. There was a wick attached to the hammer and then when the soldier was ready to shoot, he’d take his flint and steel, light the wick, aim the gun, and pull the trigger which released the hammer. The wick that was attached on the hammer would ignite the priming powder in the priming pan. The explosion would go through a small hole, set off the gunpowder in the back of the barrel, and explode. The pressure would push the projectile out of the barrel.

After Match lock came flint lock which was used on the smoothbore during the French and Indian War. This time a flint would hit a steel causing the same thing to happen as with a match lock. In 1816 the percussion cap was invented but was not issued to the American troops until 1841. A small powder filled cap fits onto a nipple, the hammer hit the cap and ignites the powder in the back of the gun. After caps came breech loading guns. Instead of loading guns from their muzzle, you would load them from the other end, the breech. One way or another the breech opened, you shoved a cartridge in the breech, closed it and fired, the beginning of a modern gun.

Rifles were invented in Europe in the 1500s. The frontiers men began using them in mid 1700s.     In 1849 Claude Etienne Minié invented a cone shaped expanding lead projectile called a Minié ball or “a bullet” that was shot from a rifle. An expanding lead bullet meant that when it hit a person’s leg or arm it would mushroom and cause serious injury. If the wound was too severe the doctor would cut and saw off arms and legs while the person was screaming. At Mississinewa I got to see some of the actual tools they used. Sometimes, like during the Civil War, there were piles of limbs as tall as buildings. War is a gruesome thing.

A rifle is a gun barrel that has very small grooves that are cut into the barrel in a spiral pattern, which greatly increased the projectiles range. When the projectile was shot, the grooves spun it making it shoot faster and farther up to 900 yards and then adding a rear site to the barrel gave the gun great accuracy. When I was at the Kalamazoo gun show, I had the opportunity to try a rifling machine. We were really putting the grooves in a real gun barrel. It could take up to 12 hours to cut the grooves in one barrel. This illustration shows how it works. 

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Even though the rifles were invented in the 1500s the American military did not commonly use them until the 1850s. In the 1850s the military modified the muskets by adding shallow grooves so they could shoot minié bullets.

The French and Indian war began in 1754 and ended in 1760, but the treaty was not singed until 1763. The war was about resources. The English lived between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, and the French lived in the middle of what is now the US and Canada. The French had the upper hand because they were friends with the Indians, had adopted the Indian way of fighting, and adapted to the wilderness, but at the time of the French and Indian war, the population of the French people in Canada was 75,000 and the population for the English in the colonies was 1,500,000. The English government sent large armies while the French sent smaller armies. The French were more interested in the Caribbean and therefore did not send over as many troops to North America. The Indians were experts in guerilla warfare and when the French came they learned this quickly. This was something new to the Europeans. Guerilla warfare is like modern Special Forces. By the end of the war, the American colonists had also had adopted Guerilla warfare which later helped them win the American Revolution. In 1763 the English had won the war which gave them New France. But the Indians kept fighting all the way through the American Revolution and to the war of 1812.

One of the causes of the American Revolution was that in the treaty that ended the French and Indian war the British agreed that the American colonists could not cross the Appalachian Mountains which as time went on antagonized the American Colonists who then did not obey the treaty and this in turn is what caused the Indian wars. Meanwhile, in the colonies, things were stirring up. The British were increasing the colonists’ taxes and made it the law that only the British could manufacture and sell resources.  The colonists were not allowed to manufacture their own stuff and sell it to local people which made it really hard for people and families to survive. Eventually, there were riots in the streets and people were protesting and this is what caused the Boston tea party. Sam Adams and some other people boarded a British merchant ship loaded with tea. They took all the tea and dumped it into the Boston Harbor. This antagonized the British, and they wanted to kill all the protesters. In 1775 the war began and then in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed. It was full on war. There were many battles and many deaths on both sides and in 1783 the colonists defeated the British. Then the colonists made the Constitution, made a government, and elected Gorge Washington the 1st president of the United States of America.

However, 30 years later, we were again at war with Britain. It became known as the war of 1812 (1812 – 1814). But my focus was the Indian side of the war, but specifically, Tecumseh. He was a Shawnee, and his dream was to unify all the Indians, join the British, and fight against the Americans to drive them away from Indian territory. Some of the Indians joined, but sadly most of them did not. The British made him a Brigadier General which is one of the highest generals there is, and he did not have to go through all the ranks. But unifying all the Indians was not his Idea, it was his younger brothers, also known as the Prophet. He was a spiritual man, but wasn’t a public guy, and was shy at speaking at a large crowd. But Tecumseh however, had a loud voice, and was a very good speaker. The battle of Mississinewa was one of the battles he fought in. He won the battle without help from the British, but did not win the war. Tecumseh was finally killed at the battle of the Thames in Ontario.

Rochelle taught me a little poem that her dad learned when he was in school in the early 1930s about the Civil war:

1861 the Civil war begun
1862 they wore the gray and blue
1863 they set the Negroes free
1864 they called for thousands more
1865 went home to see their wives

There are many reasons the Civil war started, but the two reasons I thought were the main ones were Abolishing slavery and the issue of tariffs. When Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency, the South started seceding from the Union. Abraham Lincoln wanted everybody to be united and this is another reason why the war started. The Confederacy elected Jefferson Davis as their president. The North had many high generals but towards the end of the war Ulysses S Grant became their main general. For the south, Robert E Lee was their main general. Overall, he was the best general of the war. During the war, the North was known as the Union because they wanted the states to remain united and the South was known as the Confederate states of America or the rebel states. The North wore blue and the south wore gray uniforms, but the uniforms were not standard, meaning they were not all the same. There were many famous Civil war battles but the main ones were Bull Run, Shiloh, and Gettysburg. After the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln gave his famous speech, the Gettysburg Address. Throughout the war, the Black solders wanted to fight with the North but the North was not so receptive at first. But eventually the Black soldiers were able to prove themselves. Then sometime later Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation which then freed the slaves. Finally, after 5 years of bloody war, Lee surrendered to the North at the Appomattox Court House in April 1865. Later in April 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at a Theater while watching a play. It took a really long time to recover after the Civil war. In fact, we are still facing problems from the Civil War.

By Tenzin Hurtado

Maple Syrup

With spring comes sap. In mid- March, we tapped maple trees. We did it all with sleds and snowshoes and three feet of snow. Later in April, we had a huge blizzard which brought a new 2 feet of snow. With every new tree we tapped, I would lay under it with my mouth wide open and let the sap drip right into my mouth. Usually, I would end up being really sticky, my face just covered in goo.

Drinking sap from tree

Drinking sap from tree

This year Rochelle bought tubing to see how it works for us. We also bought a 35-gallon enclosed barrel with a spigot and a fill hole that we pull behind in the snowmobile trailer and we empty the sap from the trees into it. After we are done collecting sap for the day we pull the trailer up on a little 2-foot hill we made and attach a hose to the spigot on the 35-gallon barrel and syphon it into a 50-gallon barrel where we store it until we are ready to boil. For the sap to run, the weather has to be just right. The trees need freezing temperatures at night and above freezing temperatures during the day.  After about a month, we boiled 165 gallons of sap in a 3 by 5 foot stainless steel shallow pan. The first morning, we began boiling with coats, hats, and gloves. When we finished we had T shirts. That day at some point Jan and I cut some fire wood for the cement block fire box that the pan rests on.                   

 

Stacking firewood for boiling

Stacking firewood for boiling

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On the second day of boiling when the sap was almost syrup I took some and put it in a cup and drank it straight. It’s really too sweet to drink by itself, so I have to say I like it better on oats and toast. In the end, we got 4.5 gallons of syrup. A few days ago, was our best sap collecting day yet. We got 65 gallons.  For our second boil, we had 125 gallons of sap, which made 2.5 gallons of syrup. Right now, it is the first part of May and the snow is almost gone. Spring is definitely coming.

Winter in the UP - Part 2

Winter is not over yet. Last night we were coming home from town on the snowmobile. It was 40 some degrees that day, so all the snow was slush. When we were half way home we had to cross a creek. We got across it and suddenly got stuck, I mean really stuck, so we gave up and walked a mile and a half home with our backpacks. Today right after breakfast we went out with shovels, a wood pole to break the ice in the snowmobile track, and snowshoes. We got to the stuck snowmobile and it was frozen in place. We kept lifting the snowmobile up and getting the track loose from the ground. We did this for an hour. Finally, we got it unstuck and drove home. When we got back, our clothes were soaking wet. It’s April 12 and it’s snowing hard. 

Winter in the UP

Yoopers (residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) say there are nine months of winter and three months of bad sledding. This may be true. Winter is a big part of our lives especially here in the woods. For instance, we don’t have indoor plumbing but we have an outhouse and just to get there or the wood shed, or the spring we have to shovel a trail. We get our water from a spring in a ravine. So, when there is a big snow storm the snow piles up over our waists. We have two and a half gallon buckets that we collect the water in. When we get water, we trudge through snow. There is an iron bar by the spring so when there is thick ice we must break it to dip our buckets in. Then we carry the buckets back up the hill. From the house to the spring is longer than a football field. We do this every day. We cook and heat with wood. Part of doing the chores is cutting and hauling firewood. When we begin to run low on firewood we go out with the snowmobile and snowshoes and find a few dead trees and cut them down. Then we load it into the snowmobile trailer, come back to the house and unload into the wood shed. We live a couple miles from our trucks so to get there we either have to snowshoe, snowmobile or ski. I like snowmobiling the best.

Jan cutting wood on snowshoes

Jan cutting wood on snowshoes

Even though winter is lots of work, there are many fun things to do. For instance, when we take saunas, and get really hot and we run outside to jump in the snow and run back in. It’s cold but once you get back in it feels good. It makes your skin tingle. Some of Jan and Rochelle’s friends invited Seamus and me to go ice fishing. We caught two pike over 24 inches long. We had them for dinner and they sent us home with some for dinner the next night. We also go sledding. I find the steepest hill I can and go blazing down, trying not to hit trees.  I like making snow forts on top of the wood shed roof and I like to climb up there and on top of the house roof to shoot my bb gun. The roof is cool, like being in the trees.

In February, we took a ski trip from John and Victoria’s to our house. All together there were eight of us. It was eight hours long. It was sure hard but we did it. At the end, there was a huge hill to go down, but I was so tired I wouldn’t make it ten feet without falling. That night we took a sauna, had a big feast and celebrated Victoria’s birthday with two birthday cakes, one for Victoria and one for Rochelle. The next day, I was sore but in the end, it was worth it.                                   

The Yellow Dog Watershed ski trip

The Yellow Dog Watershed ski trip

We took many trips through the woods this winter. All the places we went were awesome. When we went on top of the mountains it was so cool. In some places, you could see Lake Superior. This year Jan and Rochelle introduced me to the ice on Lake Superior. When we went on the ice it was like being in the north pole. Here’s a picture:

Lake superior ice

Lake superior ice

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When I was with John, he said if you had to survive in the winter time, snaring rabbits would be an essential skill because you can see their tracks and they don’t need to drink from rivers. They can just eat snow which means they can live in different habitats. This is what a Yooper winter is like. 

One of the last things we do before spring comes is tap maple trees. We tapped 80 trees. And now we wait for warm weather for them to flow. More on this later.  

Misun

Misun

Me drinking sap from a newly tapped tree

Me drinking sap from a newly tapped tree

UP 200 sled dog race in Marquette

UP 200 sled dog race in Marquette

Spanish: Language and Culture

I have been taking Spanish lessons with Veronica who is one of Jan and Rochelle’s friends. She is from Mexico and is a native Spanish speaker but she has been living in the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for the past twenty years. She gave us (my friend Seamus and me) a Spanish assignment. We had to research a Spanish speaking country and create a presentation. I chose the Dominican Republic, and here it is.   

Hunting on Snowshoes

John's hand made snowshoes

John's hand made snowshoes

     I have been researching members of the weasel family such as the marten, wolverine, mink, weasel, fisher, and otter. I have also been reading about hares, so on February 7th I went to John and Victoria’s house to learn more about animals, animal tracks, and snaring. They live in a log cabin like us. It is 5 miles as the raven flies or an hour and a half drive with snowmobiling at the end. They heat their house with wood in a European style brick stove and cook on an old-fashioned wood cook stove. They have a sauna, a composting outhouse, and a home-made bridge over the Mulligan River that you have to cross to get to their house. Also, we have been reading a book called Danny and the Boys by Robert Traver. In the early 1900s Danny and the boys lived in Hungry Hollow right where John now has his shop.            

John's heat stove

John's heat stove

John and Victoria's house that they built

John and Victoria's house that they built

     The first morning John and I braved -22 degrees to go out looking for animal tracks on our snowshoes. Most of the tracks we saw were from members of the weasel family and snow shoe hares. Hares can jump over 6 feet high and over 25 feet long. The Snowshoe hares seem to live in groups John calls them Snowshoe hare cities. The cities move around a lot so we spent quite a bit of time looking for where they had moved to. After a while they exhaust their food supply and the predators find them. When the hares are eating they are on high alert watching out for any predators that want to eat them so they go out and eat as much as their stomachs can hold and then run away as fast as they can to somewhere safe and poop green poop. They eat this green poop and the next time they poop it will be brown. The hares know not to eat brown poop. Once we found their new cites we spent a considerable amount of time learning to set snares in different conditions.

John and Victoria's foot bridge over the Mulligan

John and Victoria's foot bridge over the Mulligan

     The weasel family is amazing. For instance, wolverines have a keen sense of smell. They can smell an elk that got buried in an avalanche. The wolverine is the fiercest animal in the woods. Even a bear or a cougar would leave its kill to a wolverine. Wolverines will jump out of trees and land on the backs of its prey. All the members of the weasel family are fearless. The tiny weasel itself will attack anything from a mouse to a man. The marten can run circles around a fast squirrel. And the fishers can run circles around a marten. Martens are rare throughout most of the country but they are abundant in this part of the Upper Peninsula.  

 

John's solar panles

John's solar panles

Mulligan Valley with the escarpment in the backround 

Mulligan Valley with the escarpment in the backround 

John and I

John and I

By the way, John and Victoria are the parents of my drum teacher, Bryn.

Making a New Snowmobile

When I came back from Christmas break, Jan had a project for Brian and me. He had two 1988 Yamaha Scoots, youth snowmobiles. One didn’t run, and the other needed a new track, but to put on the new track we had to disassemble the whole snowmobile. Some parts on the one that didn’t run were actually better than the one without a track, so we took it apart too.

 

   
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