June begins. Skim ice on the shore lead early this morning. The Bush Hawk on wheel skis now a good distance offshore, tied down to deadman logs beneath about 30 inches of thoroughly candled white ice. 30 inches and decreasing by the hour. It won’t be long now before I am forced out of here for changeover to floats. Hopes for a protracted and delayed ice-out have pretty much fallen away. Yesterday evening I mounted the mightly little Bravo skidoo and gunned it for the Evil Kneival jump from the rotting ice edge, across the shore lead with a smacking splash and onto land. It is now stowed safely under the eave of the shed for the summer. It had a hard and lonely winter, what with being abandoned in foot-deep overflow for well over two months up on Long Lake. The dogsleds and harnesses have been stowed for the season after the final run on May 24th. No June sledding this year. Now the dogs are taking turns joining us for strolls on the ice, four at a time, booties on every paw. We can still step right onto firm ice at the south tip of the windmill island, and over at the fuel cache, but a long plank will be needed by the end of today.
A nasty tight low pressure system moved in from the southeast two days ago — not at all a common track for a weather system hereabouts — bringing a long day of lashing northeasterly wind and sideways rain. By the morning yesterday, the final morning of May, all was sunshine and blue skies and calming winds. The wind and rain sharpened the spears of the ice-candle tips, putting an end to the pleasant bicycling out on the bay. A few big mosquitoes are lumbering around, but thankfully there has been no sign of the new crop yet. Buds swelling on the birches and a few sprigs of grass starting to green. Fireweed shoots come up so fast that I think if you had the patience you could sit there for six hours and discern the rise in their height.
Yesterday as we paddled a canoe through the narrow shore lead we spotted a good-sized grayling lying in the shallows, finning gently in place, in about 10 or 15 inches of brightly lit water. Water that had just turned perfectly clear, so must now be directly connected to the main lake. There can’t be more than a foot of water between the bottom of that shoreline ice and the shallow bottom of the lake, for a long way out, but the fish had threaded the narrows and emerged into the sunlight along shore. Never seen one in there before, with the shore lead so narrow.
We were laying plans to walk down the ice to the west and check on the old boat frozen into its winter harbor, when Kristen said “there’s something big out on the ice.” Binoculars were quickly fetched, and a bear identified. Better binoculars were fetched, and the bear became a grizzly, not a black. Ambling slowly in from the headland to the west, pausing, walking slowly, pausing again. He or she turned up into Blue Fox Bay and disappeared from our sight behind the rocky point of Tern and Seagull Islands. No bear in sight for a while then, but plenty of noise from the gulls. (No terns here yet, I don’t think.) After an hour or so the bear was out on the ice again, angling south and east, drifting closer to the parked plane. Bear bangers and firearms were being readied, in case it decided to get too close to all that flimsy but expensive plexiglass, but it angled off again and slowly dwindled to a wavery speck in the far distance. Must have been one sore-footed bear that hit the Kahochella Peninsula, after miles and miles on that pointy knobbly ice.
I remember being out on the May ice many years ago, running a big string of 14 dogs, double-sledding with a friend, when out from shore came a black bear at a dead run, gaining on us from our 8 o’clock. We stopped the dogs and they all spotted it. A few barked, and the bear stopped, stood still, thought better of taking us all on, and drifted back to shore. Six hours later we saw him round the point much as the bear did yesterday. I wonder what they find out there on the ice, besides sore feet. Often they do stroll right along shore line beaches at this time of year, maybe on the lookout for sunbathing grayling fast asleep.