Monday, May 28, 2018


Upper Peninsula Tire, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

International Bridge across St. Mary's River

Wilderness Lake Gibson, Ontario

Tire repair
Brant Lake, NY
 3,523.4 miles - Longboat Key to Brant Lake

The setting: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

The plan: Drive 8 hours SW through remote areas of Ontario to Ottawa

The challenge: A nail barely visible in the side but near the tread of our right rear tire, spied by Jane

The complicating factor: Monday, May 21 was Victoria Day

What is Victoria Day? In 1845, during her reign, Queen Victoria’s birthday was celebrated as a holiday in Canada. After Victoria’s death in 1901, the Canadian Parliament declared her birthday a federal legal holiday. Like the American Thanksgiving, it became recognized by a calendar formula – on the last Monday preceding her actual birthday, May 25th. Interestingly the holiday weekend is called May Long and the term, Firecracker Day, is used in Ontario.

But enough of the history…..what was really important to us was that every Canadian commercial enterprise was shut tight on this holiday. A very different scene from the U.S.A., where if there is opportunity, usually some one is trying to serve a customer’s need and get paid for it.

So where could we turn for advice on what to do?
1.   The front desk of the riverside Delta Hotel gave us several local numbers to call –Canadian Tire, CAA, a towing company. We could be towed (but we did not yet need to be) but where could we be taken?
2.   Hotel guest #1 -- a gentleman who was heading on an 8-hour journey to Winnipeg in his truck. He suggested leaving the nail in place as the tire was not leaking. To check that out, he put water around the nail and it did not bubble.
3.   Hotel guest #2 – a fair-haired, handsome young man, an underground gold miner traveling with his wife, a nurse. They were leaving Sault Saint Marie to return to their home in the bush north of Lake Superior. He both loved the remote setting and his work. Unsure of the depth of the puncture, he pulled the nail out and we heard a soft whooosh as some air left the tire. He quickly put the nail back in to keep the rest of the air from leaking, at least for the moment.

Our first decision: Tell the front desk to hold our room as we feared driving off into remote areas with all services closed on this holiday. We might have to spend a third night in Sault Ste. Marie. A flash of insight led to a second, much better solution. We could drive across the Sault Set. Marie International Bridge, the tenth biggest passenger crossing that links Michigan and Ontario, to get to America. Very lucky that this option existed as the bridge was the only link to the United States within hundreds of miles either east or west. All commerce would be open in Michigan. With a quick cell phone call to nearby U.P. (upper peninsula) Tire, we made an appointment to have the tire repaired. Then we crossed the bridge, U.P. Tire speedily sealed the leak and then we re-crossed the St. Mary's River to begin our eight-hour drive through the wilds of the province of Ontario to our overnight destination of Ottawa.

Sunday, May 20, 2018



It was a spectacular full day’s drive arching on the Trans-Canada Highway along the north shore of Lake Superior from Thunder Bay, ON to Sault Ste. Marie, ON. One sees very little population or commercial activity – road work, bridge rebuilding and a big gold mine were the main enterprises along the route. We did see snowbanks, a moose lingering on the road until we almost snapped its photo, a small black bear cub, and a trading post displaying its own fur coats.

Sault Ste. Marie is right across the river from the Michigan city of the same name. The two cities are connected by an international bridge that provides a busy international crossing as no other bridge is anywhere nearby. At night its steel arches are illuminated in red, white and blue.

Sault Ste. Marie Ontario is most famous for the St. Mary’s River locks used to bypass the rapids of the St. Mary’s River in order to facilitate shipping between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Through these locks large freighters carry iron ore from the Mesabi Range to the steel mills in the east—critical to the industrial strength of America. And we recall it was also through the St. Mary’s River that the voyageurs passed on their journeys to the trading post at Grand Portage (see earlier blog).

Well, what does one do in Sault Ste. Marie?  Why of course, we go to the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. No longer using canoes to penetrate the wilderness to the north, instead our late 20thcentury and 21stcentury hearty adventurer hops on a bush plane. This enables the pilot and passenger(s) to fly over the unending forests, winding rivers, canyons and many lakes of the north country – en route to landing at a fishing camp or a remote mine or small village. By taking to the air to transport goods and people in and out of the north reaches of Ontario, they make these remote areas accessible in a limited way as a resource for Canada and the world. 

Bush planes are now specially designed for fighting forest fires.  Some models can skim a lake’s surface, and in a few seconds, pick up 12,000 gallons of water without stopping, fly over the fire and drop their payload to control the flames.  Not an easy task, but a necessary one in wilderness forest management and to protect any nearby settlements. But it takes a specialized aircraft to perform this feat – no 737 or 767 can land in the deep woods. The plane must be small and extra-sturdy, often having pontoons for water landing or skis for snowfield landing, and be able to endure great stresses, and sometimes temperatures as low as 50 below zero on the ground. But most important, it had to be easily serviced or repaired by the pilot and whoever might be flying with him. It is this last requirement that sets up the many stories of survival by bush pilots in trouble in the wilderness.  But for those tales, one must come to this museum, which is, if you check a map, only a little bit out of your way! Otherwise, you can stay home and Google bush planes.
Pontoons and Skis for the Bush Plane

Bush Plane with Pontoons for Lake Landings

Fur Coats at Agawa Trading Post

Overlooking Islands in Lake Superior

Modern Day Voyageur



Why is there a US National Monument at Grand Portage at the northern edge of Minnesota on Lake Superior near the Canadian border? First of all, what is a portage? Webster’s dictionary defines it as “the carrying of boats or goods from one body of water to another” often around an obstacle such as rapids or a waterfall.

The Grand Portage itself is a rocky, rugged 8-mile trail that sometimes was referred to as “the wilderness highway.” Thousands of fur traders, often carrying two 90-pound packs, tread over it to bypass the ten high falls and multiple rapids of the Pigeon River as it flows into Lake Superior. At either end of the portage, the traders could access a passable water route – one going west via rivers and lakes that penetrated deep into the interior of the US and Canada and the other going east following the Great Lakes (Superior and Huron) and then on to the Ottawa River to Montreal or Quebec.

Why would one traders do all this arduous travel? High quality beaver pelts from the New World were in great demand to make hats for Europeans as the European beaver had become almost extinct. To meet this need, French explorers and missionaries established a post at Grand Portage on Lake Superior soon after 1722 to serve as a hub for the very lucrative French and Indian fur trade.

There were two distinct parts of the trading system – one began in Montreal and the other started in the wild lands west and north of Grand Portage. Called the Rendezvous, those who carried trade goods from the east and those who transported the beaver pelts from the west met at Grand Portage on the shore of Lake Superior in late July.

            1. 8-12 French voyageurs would carry up to 8,000 pounds of cargo for a two-month journey. They paddled 35-foot lake canoes – from east to west - from Montreal upstream on the Ottawa River and then with some portages, into Lake Huron. Next they would traverse Lake Superior, all the while hugging the shoreline for protection from the very rough lake waters. All these steps were necessary as these Montreal men, known as the “pork eaters” carried goods from Europe to be ultimately traded for the more valuable furs desired by Europeans. 

            2. A second group of French Canadian trappers-traders picked up these European goods at Grand Portage. Then they trekked across the 8-mile portage and carried these goods in their 15-foot birch bark river canoes into the interior of what is now Minnesota, Ontario and points west and north as far as the Rocky Mountains and Northwest Territories. 

            Known as “winterers,” the French trapper-traders departed Grand Portage in late July paddling up rivers and lakes to isolated Indian campsites where they spent cold dark winter months. There they traded finished goods for furs and lived with native Americans fur trappers. Together they skinned the beavers for their pelts, packaged them in 90-pound bundles that then could be carried by canoe back to Grand Portage in the late spring using the waterways as their highways. At Grand Portage the fur pelts were transferred for transport to the east, by the “pork eaters” who also left the trading base in late July and paddled their 35 foot lake canoes back to Montreal. This trade flourished for about a century as all parties gained from the exchange of goods – the Europeans wanted beaver pelts from the Indians and the Indians wanted iron pots, knives, guns, Chinese porcelain, and other manufactured goods from the Europeans. 

Grand Portage was under the control of varying nations during its years as a trading post. In 1763 with the end of the Seven Years War, also known as the – French and Indian War, the English gained control of all of Canada. In 1784 a group of Scotsmen formed the Northwest Company to facilitate the fur trade and augment its profits. When the boundary between the United States and Canada was drawn in 1803, the English lost control of Grand Portage, which became part of what is now the state of Minnesota.  The Northwest Company relocated its trading base north to Thunder Bay Ontario bringing to an end the vibrant trading days of Grand Portage. With diminishing profits from fewer beaver and fashion changes in Europe, the Northwest Company survived until 1821 when it merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

A National Monument visitor center has recently been built at Grand Portage to capture the vibrant years of the European and Indian life here at the trading post. On display are artifacts including a metal teapot spout, shards of porcelain from China, elegant beaded gloves all excavated at the area. The National Park Service has been able to make an accurate reconstruction of the fort and its many houses inside the stockade walls—all based on the archaeological record. The rendezvous at Grand Portage was part of the cultural encounter between Europeans and the Native Americans that forever changed their lives. It is part of our collective story with consequences still being felt.
North America's largest rodent = the beaver

Canoe today retracing the portage route

Reconstruction of the Fort and Trading Post at Grand Portage

Elegant Beaded Gloves by Ojibwe (Chippewa tribe)

French Voyageur Carrying his Load



Glensheen, a 39 room Jacobean mansion, is perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Superior outside Duluth Minnesota. With fountains, stately gardens, a brick carriage house, boathouse and gardener’s cottage, it is about the last thing one would imagine finding in this remote spot. The climate was challenging in its extremes - as seen in the thermometer marked with the categories: Blood Heat, Summer Heat, Temperate, and Freezing. But Chester and Clara Congdon loved this setting next to Tisher Creek as it rushed through a glen that sparkled in the sun and hence they named their property Glensheen. Or perhaps you like another theory that the name derived from the Congdon family's origin in the village of Sheen in Surrey. Choose the one you prefer!

Chester Congdon, the son of a Methodist minister in Rochester, NY, benefitted from a combination of good education, a law degree, fortunate timing, great luck and the almost unlimited opportunities available in late 19thcentury America. After being admitted to the bar in NY, he went west to Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. With a spirit of adventure, he moved to St Paul, MN and then was invited to join a law partnership in the remote town of Duluth MN.Shortly thereafter, the firm was hired to represent the Oliver Mining Company in negotiations over mining rights in the Mesabi Iron Range. Congdon, as the lead lawyer, became extraordinarily wealthy through his relationship with the mining company which was later purchased by US Steel. As demand for iron ore increased, in fact Duluth became home to more and more millionaires. 

In 1901, Congdon hired the architect, Clarence Johnston to design a large family home on the shore of Lake Superior in Duluth. Chester and his wife, Clara, built their elegant English manor from 1905-08, using skilled craftsmen and the finest materials from around the world. Their home had 15 bedrooms, most with private baths. However, the women’s bathrooms were outfitted only with tubs; men had only stall showers often with 10-12 showerheads. Most closets had windows to keep clothing appropriately aired. Their horses were used not only for recreational riding, but often to pull the new and somewhat unreliable automobiles out of the mud.  

Interestingly, each of the seven Congdon children came back to live at Glensheen in bedrooms personalized for each of them. Several were in their twenties and all unmarried at that time; the boys had studied at Yale (the college Chester had hoped to attend but could not afford) and the girls attended Vassar. Later Glensheen was the site of elaborate weddings for the Congdon offspring. 

Sixty years later, with most of the mansion’s 39 rooms little-used, the Congdon descendants deeded the house and grounds to the University of Minnesota on the condition that Elisabeth Congdon — Chester’s last surviving single daughter — would be allowed to live out her years there. 

After that came tragedy. On June 27, 1977. Elisabeth, the ailing 83 year-old heiress was smothered to death at Glensheen, along with her night nurse, Velma Pietila, 67. The mystery remains about who committed these heinous murders.

View of Lake Superior

Tack room

Shower heads


Attic Luggage Room: reflecting how much and how well          the Congdons traveled

Breakfast Room



With a population of 3,500,000 in the greater urban area, Minneapolis is a very appealing place to live and work. It is one part of the Twin Cities; the other half is the neighboring state capital of St. Paul right across the Mississippi River. This urban concentration came to be because the falls of the river supplied needed power for the many mills which came to be located there.
 By the last half of the 19thcentury, the Mississippi River was a force for America’s industrialization – lumber and flour mills shipped their goods east and new settlers flowed in. 

May is the perfect time to visit – crab apples are blooming, weather is temperate, sports and outdoor activities abound, and the Minnesota Twins are in residence
Edwin Davis, Channel to the Mills, 1913

Rain slickers handed out to devoted fans

View of downtown from Minneapolis Institute of Art

Brian Dozier (2B) at the plate
in their new and most attractive downtown Target Field.

In fact, we are avid Twins fans, as our nephew, Thad Levine, has recently moved up from Dallas and the Texas Rangers to become the Twins general manager.  And what a great operation it is – seven minor league teams give upcoming players the opportunity to shine; the stadium’s Champions Club feeds season tickets holders smorgasbord dinners; TV cameras and radio announcers keep the fans abreast as the innings bring excitement. In Florida, we are also near the Twins spring training stadium in Fort Myers FL --  where it almost seems that almost all retired Minnesotans escape to during the winter

So there we were right behind home plate (in rain-delay and shine) cheering, shouting, clapping with the fans. And enjoying it all….. The Minnesota fan base is wide and deep and they really love their home team, win or lose, fair weather or foul. As we saw, the Twins are a young team in transition with great prospects

Wednesday, May 16, 2018



The Hermitage, the antebellum home of the people’s president, Andrew Jackson, is close to Nashville, Tennessee. When visiting there, we kept in mind the values and mind set of his times. We sought not to be influenced by revisionist history where one judges events of the past according to the evolving moral standards of today’s world. We viewed the Hermitage and Jackson’s place in the context of the early 19thcentury. This was especially relevant since Jackson was involved in important issues of his day that today are viewed very differently – slavery and Indian removal. 

In the 41 years that Andrew Jackson owned the property until his death in 1845, the original 425 acre frontier farm evolved into a diversified 1,000 acre cotton plantation. While Andrew and Rachel Jackson originally lived in a small log cabin, as his fortunes improved he commissioned an architect-designed classical mansion be built for his family and frequent guests. Based on labor of resident slaves and Jackson’s effective management, the plantation produced 35-40,000 pounds of cotton for the market annually. While Jackson kept slave families together, he simply accepted slavery as part of the natural order.

Jackson had a colorful military and political life, but  took greatest pride in his military accomplishments and always preferred being called “General” rather than “President." His most notable military victory was at the Battle of New Orleans that ironically came several weeks after peace was made at the Treaty of Paris ending the War of 1812 — no internet available then!

In 1824, Jackson made an unsuccessful bid for president in a field of four candidates.  The other three - John Quincy Adams, William Crawford and Henry Clay had all served in the prior administration. When no candidate won an Electoral College majority, the House of Representatives under the provisions of the Twelfth Amendment voted and elected John Quincy Adams as America’s 6thpresident.

However, in 1828, Jackson triumphed over John Quincy Adams, a son of a president and a member of the Boston’s unofficial aristocracy. (As an aside, only Abigail Adams and Barbara Bush each had the honor of being the wife and mother of American presidents.)

Jackson was the first president from the new Democrat party and the first president from the trans-Appalachian west, i.e. Tennessee. His election represented a populist, democratic wave against the eastern elites who had up to this time controlled the federal government. Jackson opened up lands in Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee for settlement by the land-hungry and growing

Exterior pillars of expanded classical mansion (no photos permitted inside)

Equestrian statue standing in front of the TN capitol

population, who were also primarily slave owners. He accomplished this by forcibly removing the Indians along the “Trail of Tears” and resettling them in the trans-Mississippi west.  As a sign of the times and co-mingling the issues of the day, the Cherokee tribes themselves were slave holders.

A strong supporter of the Union and a true nationalist, Jackson confronted Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina in the nullification crisis that sought to elevate states over the power of the central government – issues which linger till today. Jackson forcefully supported preservation of the Union above all.  His toast at the annual Jefferson birthday dinner was “The Federal Union, it must be preserved.”  Politically, the compromise Jackson forged allowed the new American republic to gain internal strength before facing the devastating effects of the Civil War.

Jackson was the last president to know all the presidents who preceded him. He viewed George Washington as his mentor. In his office, we saw a desk and swivel chair that had been given to him by Washington. The Hermitage, like Mt Vernon, is maintained by a non-profit foundation founded by a group of Tennessee women who wished to preserve the Jackson heritage. And a visit to the Hermitage introduces thousands upon thousands of tourists to that heritage!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018



Bars along two long blocks on Broadway in downtown Nashville frame the center of the Honky Tonk district. Here aspiring country musicians rotate on stage every hour or two as they play gigs from 11 am to 3 am daily. On these small stages singers and instrumentalists, with high hopes and electronic amplification, audition before ever-changing audiences. The tip bucket is passed occasionally while the fiddlers, singers, etc. remind the usually appreciative audience that they “play for tips.”  

The downtown Ryman Auditorium was built originally as a tabernacle. Later it was converted to a country music venue, the original location of the Grand Ole Opry – today referred to as “the Mother Church of Country Music.”  It features known performers – singers, pianists, fiddlers, bass-players, etc. – who perform before enthusiastic audiences. Ryman is a very informal setting – you can drink beer, sing and clap along, dress in cowboy boots and plaid shirts. Country music devotees are just thrilled to be there.

Tourist buses and thousands of cars bring music lovers to park in the Opry Mills Mall and then cross a bridge to the most revered venue – the Grand Ole Opry. Here musicians who have reached the pinnacle perform to a responsive packed house.

Our cast included – a very talented black singer from Arizona. Dom Flemons, a Grammy Award winning folk artist, appeared for the first time at the Opry. He had a magic touch playing the harmonica and singing tunes of the Buffalo soldiers who served in the US Army and settled in the west. Carrie Underwood starred that night, honored for her ten years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She is an amazing country music singer and has hosted the Country Music Awards for seven or so years. Probably (or maybe) you have heard of her.

The Opry shows are broadcast live on Opry’s mobile  app,, Sirius XM, 650 AM at WSM so you can tune in and sing along! What began in 1925 as a simple radio show is radio’s longest-running program and can be heard today around the world. I would be remiss if I did not mention their main advertisers – Dollar General, Boot Barn and Humana. So while the performance was going on, a Mr. Stubbs, clad in a dull gray suit with a sonorous deep voice, did a live narration of the show to the millions of listeners worldwide.

Two odd facts
1.    Country music now can be heard in NYC at Opry City Stage in Times Square.
2.    Ben called us on FT from South Korea as we sat in the audience. We turned the iPhone camera towards the stage so momentarily we were broadcasting to Asia.

Ryman stage

Much photographed spot: Jane and Bob at Opry

Broadway Honky Tonk

Opry stage

Carrie Underwood sings....

A chain serving small towns along the in Ina, TN, pop. 250