My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Of Wolves and Bears and the Havest Moon Festival

Dateline, Sunday, September 8

I'm sitting on the back porch of the Front Porch Coffee Shop in Ely, MN.  My friend Bob expects to meet me at 12:30 today, at the Chocolate Moose, an iconic restaurant.  I was told to be SURE and go there the first time I came to the Boundary Waters, probably back in 1994  or so.  The last time I ate there was in 1999, at the end of a wonderful sixteen-day trip with my friend, Hulin.  We had walleye that was covered in wild rice and it was outstanding.

I made it here Thursday afternoon and found a beautiful Forest Service campground on Fall Lake. My camp is one of a pair that are up short trails in  from the road and can only see each other. A single man was there on Thursday night but left on Friday and I've had this little point all to myself.

View from the lake side of the camp site
Kawishiwi Falls, a few miles from Fall Lake
I wanted to revisit some of the places I'd visited on earlier trips, so Friday I went to the International Wolf Institute.  Saturday I went to see the Dorothy Molter Museum and the new (to me) American Bear Center. I also spent some time at the Harvest Moon Festival that was going on in town.

Dorothy Molter was the last person to live in the Boundary Waters.  She lived on an island in Knife Lake, which I'm finally going to see. She came here as a young person, and lived in the area before it became the Boundary Waters. She ended up living here for 56 years, much of that by herself. She was not allowed to charge for her cabins, after her island became part of the Boundary Waters, but was allowed to accept donations. So canoers used to stay at her cabins and also drink her (pretty terrible) root beer. She bottled 12,000 bottles a year with very primitive equipment.  And she put up ice in an ice house every year, with help from lots of her friends who cut it and helped haul it and pack moss and sawdust around it.

Dorothy's cabin was taken apart and brought to Ely along with some of her possessions - the Forest Service burned everything the volunteers couldn't rescue.
Here's her root beer factory - she filled one bottle at a time and did several cases of bottles a batch.
 The International Wolf Center has a wonderful display on wolf behavior and lots of information and pictures of wolves in European and American Culture. They maintain a pack of 4 wolves and retire the old ones to live out their lives away from people's eyes.  A cam records the lives of one pair of retired wolves and you can watch it from the wolf center. I only got to see one current pack of the wolves and it was just lying in the same place the entire time I was there.

Part of the circular exhibit showing wolves in many activities
One of the current wolf pack
I was totally blown away by the North American Bear Center. They have hundreds of pictures and scores of videos as well as a sixty-minute movie on black bear research in Ely.  This has been going on for 40 years and the researchers locate radio-collared bears and then spend time traveling with them, sometimes at only a few feet away.  And many of these bears will interact with the researchers. We now know that black bears are more like prey than predators and even feeding them won't make them aggressive. This study is considered on of the top four studies of large mammals in the world and has let us learn that black bears will almost never attack a human but can learn to live in close proximity with them. Check out both these sites, so I don't have to rant on for hours. I spent at least four hours at the center, and still didn't see all the videos. Last year, a female bear let them put a cam in her den and the public got to watch her baby bear born. Then they were followed by their Facebook fans, many of whom came to a bear picnic.

My favorite exhibit was the one debunking the stories and  pictures of many of the hunting magazines. Most of the pictures were from posed bears and there was an excellent video about a woman trainer who owns several black and grizzly bears. She showed how she trains bears to open their mouths. The sound effects are added in later - sometimes using the sounds from other animals.

One of the black bears on exhibit
 And finally, I enjoyed the Harvest Moon Festival, including the farmer's market, the crafts (and visiting with the craftsmen),  the Voyagers Village, and the Lumberjack show. I also enjoyed the 1970's music played by the Boundary Waters Boys.
Some of the booths and a beautiful garden that is part of the park
A young blacksmith
Can you see the ax in this competition to hit the target with an ax?

This was the run across several logs. Both contestants fell in repeatedly.
And kids got to try their skills at riding the logs
I'm finishing this up at Canadian Border Outfitters in there Liar's Room - actually just a room in which people can hang out. Bob and I are their only overnight customers and will be the only ones going out tomorrow.  We'll get a tow into Birch Lake and the will paddle into Knife Lake. Bob is checking over our route as I'm finishing up this. Can't wait - this is only my fourth trip and I don't think I'll ever get enough of this area.