Not so Silent Night

Most of the country knows by now that it’s cold up here in the Northwoods. I would wager that all of us can agree that it’s too cold, in fact. This morning as I walked outside to start my car, I couldn’t help but take a moment to pause and listen. Sometimes when I’m out fishing on my lake during a winter weekday, I will sit there and be amazed that it can be dead silent for long periods of time. I certainly thought that might be the case today; after all, I didn’t believe that anything could possibly be stirring around in weather like this. To my amazement, the forest that surrounds my house was in the middle of playing one of its greatest musical performances. Trees were snapping and popping in all directions and tones, echoing down throughout the creek valley that leaves Culbertson Lake. I found myself memorized by this symphony, at least until until I started feeling a frigid pain start gnawing at my face and nose.

The crunches of my footsteps tried to compete with the forest’s orchestra, but it wasn’t until I opened that car door that the chimes of the trees were brought to their knees by the shriek that came from the door opening. It was such a painful sound I wondered how it was even possible. No horror movie director had ever came up with something so horrendous. Starting the car yielded multiple cries to the heavens above, as if the car itself was questioning why I would think about doing such an evil thing to it. I’m sure at that moment, it wished I had never equipped it with what I call “the life line”—a block heater cord. It’s previous Voyager owners, George and Joanne, now live in Florida and if the car could talk it most certainly would ask them, “why did you leave me here?”

As I headed down Mail Road, each bump was magnified by what seemed like times-ten. The shocks had no give and my leather heated seat, which doesn’t work, was more like sitting on frozen, wooden block equipped with a bucking device. As I crossed Culbertson Creek the Thermometer read -36, which I believe is an all-time low in all my years going to work. That record would not last long to my surprise; while I climbed the gentle hill by the Red Rock it dipped to -37, which then held steady before receding a tiny bit near the clubhouse.

Finally I arrived at my destination. As I climbed out of my car to fill the wood-boiler at the maintenance shop, I  heard a lone chickadee calling out into the the morning sunrise; the final notes to this morning’s symphony. To me, this is what is so amazing about living up here in Northern Wisconsin; to experience these extraordinary conditions and know that a tiny bird can live here too and sing during a morning like this. There’s something beautiful in that fact, in this lesson from the chickadee. As I stepped into my heated building to begin the day’s work, I knew that I would be able to get through the day with a smile on my face, too.

Frosty Chickadee
Look on the bright side; it could be -38.

 

 

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Happy New Year!

It’s hard to believe that 2018 is over and we’re about to tackle another year. Day one of the new year is a time to relax a bit and maybe reflect on the past and how we might change a few things moving forward. When I look back at 2018, my blog performance and explore outdoors events I certainly can see successes in some regards, but also room for improvement. Today, to kick off 2019 I want to take time to review the past season and highlight things that I might have missed sharing with you. So sit back and enjoy my first slide show of the year. I hope to keep you all engaged in 2019 and that you look forward to seeing and hearing the outdoors.

 

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The Return!

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Can you identify these tracks?

Long time no see, for some of you at least! Last week my Explore Outdoors program returned to the Village and I took some people out ice fishing on Birch Island lake. We all had a great time, despite the fishing being a little slower than I hoped. I like to think that fishing is more about getting out and enjoying time away from the hustle-and-bustle of life; maybe that’s why my sons always seem to outfish me. This week, I’ll be doubling down with my first blog post in a while and take anyone interested for a nature hike this Saturday, December 15th.

I plan to take willing victims participants on a two-hour long excursion though the forests, swamps and lakes of Burnett County to look for signs of wildlife and other interesting scenery while getting some exercise. We will meet at the pub at the Voyager clubhouse at 11 am before setting out. This is a great time of year with minimal snow, comfortable temps, and no, and I mean no, undesirable mosquitos, ticks, flies or other annoying members of the phylum Arthropoda (looking at you, wasps).

If you would instead like to take a walk on the not-so-wild side, you can come out and swing a golf club at a tennis ball. We will be opening up the par three foot-golf holes for people this weekend and beyond. You can also try out the skating rink on the pond next to the Kilkare Lodge. Temps will soar to near 40 degrees this weekend, so please get out of the house and join us for some fun in the sun!

 

Over the next few weeks, I will be focusing on creating some enjoyable activities outside and giving you a glimpse back over the year with some of the pictures I took that I neglected to share with you. I hope to see you soon, but if you’re somewhere warm already just sit back and enjoy my return to posting about the great outdoors. I also want to remind all snow lovers to “be careful for what you wish for”, because there can really be “too much of a good thing.”

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My 100th Blog Post!

I’m proud and happy to be able to say that this is my 100th post to all my appreciated followers! My first post began about three years ago and had a grand total of six views. My audience has grown a bit since then and continues to expand to people and places that I never could have anticipated. My posts started out to inform area residents of what was going on here in the quiet countryside of Voyager Village, but they have certainly reached beyond the scope of my intention.

Almost everyday I see more and more of you liking my blog and signing up to follow it. This certainly touches my heart with warmth and I hope to follow up with the goods that you desire. So let me know when you like something or want to see or learn more about a specific topic; otherwise, I will continue to wander along touching on the things that I’m blessed to see and enjoy.

As the amount and intensity of summer sunlight in our little neck of the woods increases, so does the presence of wildflowers and the creatures that depend on them. After getting home from a long day at work yesterday I was happily greeted by sights of multiple butterflies and bees in my flower gardens. It was nice to see a few monarchs around after having some rough years where their beauty was mostly absent from our landscape. As the wannabe(e) beekeeper that I am, I’m certainly aware of how important these early flowers are for the nectar gathering wildlife. I’m always amazed at how hard us beekeepers work to keep our honey bees happy and yet so many of our many natural pollinators do it with seemingly with ease.

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If you were in bed this morning sleeping (when most sane people are), you missed a short but intense partial sunrise followed by a storm front that quickly blew in and produced some 45-50 MPH wind gusts.  The combination of light and storm made for a interesting view from our shop.

Thanks again for your support and I will talk to you soon!

-Steve Johnson

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A White Surprise

As most of you stare out of your window today I can only imagine that you don’t what to see any more white stuff.  It’s been six straight months of it and honestly it’s starting to wear down even the most hardy of Wisconsin and Minnesota residents—and they wonder why we have a drinking problem! However with every downside there is supposed to be a upside, right?

Maple Syrup Crystal
Maple Syrup Crystal

My goal today is to cheer you up and show you that cold, snowy weather can be good for something. First of all, it’s been a great year for collecting maple syrup if you have a means to get around in the snow. The extend period of time where temperatures go above freezing in the day and then back down is just what the doctor ordered for that process. I really enjoy making maple syrup but it’s certainly a lot of work. Last year I made a mistake and overcooked my sap and caused it to become supersaturated. As the liquid cooled there was more sugar in the solution than it could hold at the lower temperature. The minerals present actually worked to seed a crystallization process with the sugar, and you can imagine my surprise when I went to get a jar of syrup only to find something growing in the bottom of them. The crystals were so big that I had to break the jars to get them out, but it felt like a worthy sacrifice as they were so beautiful.

My outcome was better than a friend’s, who had a bear follow his sap line this year and bite holes in over twenty bags of tree sap to fill his empty belly. The long winter has certainly been hard on a lot of wildlife, driving other animals to show up at my bird feeder for an easy meal. One such visitor is an almost two-year-old albino doe. I’m certainly hopeful that she will have many more years to come.IMG_6427[1]

Another visitor to my house has been a Barred Owl, who has been hunting for mice, voles, and rabbits. An easy meal for one can turn deadly for another, but that truly is the spirit of nature and one that I enjoy watching. So as you stare out that window today and try to wish away that white away keep in mind that snow can be a nice thing to see after all.

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Still Small, Still Mighty, Still Winter

This week the one hundred pound firecracker that we call Betty was back at work. She helped organize the Ski Clubs sleigh rides that took place on Valentine’s day and then again on Friday. She also organized volunteers and one golf course superintendent (slow learner) to help clear a path through the woods from the right side of hole sixteen to Treasure Island Lane. This will be the last leg of the connection route that was started this past fall that will enable all four cross county ski trails to be one continuous loop that will certainly benefit all outdoor enthusiasts during our four great seasons in the Village.

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The Lodge Skating Pond awaits you!
Other things that are going on in the Village include the skating pond at the Lodge. We also opened the ice golf course next to the Lodge now that the weather isn’t sub-zero everyday anymore. Everyone that’s coming out and using it is having a blast so get out soon while the weather lasts! Tennis balls await you at the start so just bring a club or two and enjoy. I personally like a five iron and driver, and just use the driver as a putter. However, I got beat by my two youngest boys this weekend so maybe you should ask them what to use.

With around 10 inches of new snow already fallen this week, and 6-12 more predicted to fall late Saturday into Sunday morning, I encourage all of you to get out in the next few weeks and enjoy some of the best winter conditions we may have all year. And yes, the fishing is good too!

 

-Steve Johnson

A Winter Survivor

Winter certainly provides plenty of opportunities to engage in winter fun and enjoy its beauty; to me there is nothing more breathtaking than a snow covered landscape. The mountains in Montana hold fond memories of some of these magnificent winter sights. I recently was sent some pictures by some of my relatives that are fortunate enough to call this place home. I wanted to share some of these great pictures with you, so enjoy the short slide show below.

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On the other end of the spectrum, winter can be a tough and challenging time for many animals to survive. I’m always amazed at how wonderfully adapted to these conditions the tiny chickadee are. Early Saturday morning I headed outside to fill my bird feeders as the thermometer was reading -22.  If you’re a little bit crazy like me this is a great time to train wild birds to eat out of your hand. Hunger and the will to survive drives all creatures to be a little bolder than normal. As I held my hand out with seed and peanuts I noticed a couple things: the faces of many of the chickadees actually had frost on the tips of their feathers around their face and eyes, and as they flew back and forth and landed on branches they alternated bringing their little feet up into their body feathers to keep them warm. The pace they did this was amazing; to me it almost looked like they were standing a hot bed of coals, jumping from one foot to the other.

I have read that an active chickadee on a cold day will have a heart rate of 1,000 beats a minute in order to stay warm. Warning: these birds are professionals so don’t try to duplicate this stunt without consulting your doctor first. In order to fuel this astounding metabolism, this little bird will have to consume the energy equivalent of over 150 sunflower seeds in a single day. I’ve observed that each chickadee has its own strategy to accomplish this. Some will fly in and manage to get two seeds at a time before flying off, others will sort through the seeds and grab only the ones that have been shelled out, while others yet have learned that cut up peanuts is the way to go.

Trying to photograph this little guys seems like it would be an easy enough task, seeing as they are so tame. The reality of this couldn’t be farther from the truth because they never stop moving. I must admit that the most humorous part of photographing them is when they keep landing on you and your camera because they think you have treats for them.  As fun as I make it out to be, unfortunately camera batteries and fingers don’t last long in this type of weather. After about 15 or 20 minutes, I was realizing just how amazing it is that these little creatures, and many others, manage to survive day after day in this weather. It also makes me think how much they must appreciate my bird feeder and the little effort it takes me to wander outside and fill it each morning.

 

-Steve Johnson