Observing wolves is a highlight of the wild

John Gilbert

A pair of young wolves from the pack that roams the woods at Ely’s International Wolf Center checked on available food. Photo credit: John Gilbert
A pair of young wolves from the pack that roams the woods at Ely’s International Wolf Center checked on available food. Photo credit: John Gilbert
A wolf was dozing, but aware on a hot afternoon at the Ely Wolf Center. Photo credit: John Gilbert
A wolf was dozing, but aware on a hot afternoon at the Ely Wolf Center. Photo credit: John Gilbert

One of the overlooked sports in our midst is the always-available world of the outdoors. I appreciate hunting and fishing, and can admire those who engage in it with great zeal, although I haven’t hunted since I was a kid and shot a partridge with my .410 shotgun. When it dropped, I ran up to it, excited at what I’d accomplished, and something touched me on the top of my left ear.

It was a feather, a beautiful feather, from off this now-deceased partridge at my feet. I had blown it up into the air, and it came floating down until it hit me on the ear. It startled me, and for some reason, it caused a rush of sympathy for that poor dead partridge.
I’ve still got the gun, but I’ve never hunted again, although I enjoy hiking and observing all sorts of wildlife wherever I can find it.
Fishing is a lot more impersonal, and I did go fishing with both my sons, Jack and Jeff, although we didn’t disturb the life expectancy of too many fish in our ventures — except when I used to get invited to Warroad’s celebrity golf tournament, and the walleyes would jump into the boat while guides complained that it was a slow time in a slow year for fishing Lake of the Woods. And here we thought the fish were jumping into the boat.

As an observer with a camera, and a driver of new cars to be tested, one of my favorite trips these days is to Ely. We hadn’t been up there all summer, and when some friends came to visit from the East Coast, it seemed like the perfect time.
All the way up Hwy. 61 to Two Harbors, then heading North to cut into Hwy. 2 and make our way onto the beautifully smooth and twisting roadway that covers the last 35 miles makes the journey worth more than the time and effort and gasoline expended.
En route, I was able to explain to our friends how we would take advantage of the beautiful summer day to visit Pirogi’s Outfitters, as well as stopping for lunch at the Chocolate Moose, one of our favorite lunch-dinner spots, pie and all. And then we would visit the Wintergreen clothing shop to check on how the Shurke’s family business was doing. And I could take them to Henry’s where they could buy the best leather belts and mitts on the planet, handmade. They make great gifts.

We could climax the afternoon with a visit to the Wolf Center, on the East end of town.
We did all that, but first thing we saw when we parked right outside the Chocolate Moose was that the restaurant was closed. Closed! On a hot July day? Asking around, we learned that the couple who had operated the Chocolate Moose had split up, and while trying to find someone to lease or buy it, had closed up shop.

My favorite leather shop was closed for the day, too. But the rest of town was as we had anticipated, and we even found an alternative place for lunch.
The highlight, though, was visiting the Wolf Center. We checked out several displays, interesting all, and then we went to the little auditorium for a seminar on wolves. As we sat there, listening to the discussion, we could look out the large windows onto a scene where we’ve seen wolves before. They are interesting animals, because they don’t trust humans, but they also don’t seem to fear humans. To me, they have the ability to gaze with those laser-like eyes right into the soul of humans, and you can feel why the Native Americans felt like wolves were their brothers.

And just then, a white wolf came walking out of the thick brush and sauntered right down the trail toward us. Actually, it was toward where workers had positioned some road-kill critters that could serve as a light lunch for the wolves.
I asked if it was one-way glass in the windows, but it isn’t. We see the wolves and they see us, and they walk up to within 3 or 4 feet of us without concern. Another wolf followed, then a couple more, from the pack that lives in the large acreage owned by the wolf center. It’s their home, and they seem to tolerate the humans who serve them.

We checked out the rest of the displays, and the tee shirts and sweatshirts, and then we headed for our car for the trip back to Duluth.

Tough ordeal for Kevin Smalley

Longtime Duluth hockey fixture Kevin Smalley is out of a job after one year as high school coach at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton. Smalley, who had coached successfully for years at Denfeld, decided he wanted to take a shot at coaching at the Class AA level and took the job that had become available at Cloquet.

Smalley has made a lot of friends in hockey, and those who know him admire his tenacity as a coach, both while leading Denfeld all those years in Class A at his beloved West Duluth slot, and in the one year at the helm of the Lumberjacks.
Years ago, Smalley had some trying times, losing his mother and his brother. But he straightened out his life, and, he told me, “You could count on one hand all the times I’ve even had two beers in the last 11 years.”
He knows he’s a better man for it, but a week ago he was attending a social function in Cloquet, and during the socializing, he had a couple of beers, he said. Then he got in his car and drove the short distance to Duluth. He was stopped by a Highway Patrol car and even though he said he didn’t feel impaired, he tested to be right on the borderline of impaired driving. The wrong side of the borderline.

The next day, Smalley went to Cloquet High School and informed school officials of what had happened, acknowledging that the law is the law, and he was determined to make up for it. He left there feeling he had the support of the administrators, but two days later, he was contacted with the news they were not going to renew his contract.

He has informed his players of what has happened, and that he won’t be the coach at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton in the upcoming season. “I’m not denying what happened,” Smalley said. “I was wrong, and I’m dealing with it.”
At this point, he has his work, and the support of all who know him, but he doesn’t have a job coaching hockey, which is his passion. The game needs Kevin Smalley.

UMD decides to sell beer, wine at hockey games

The UMD athletic department has decided to allow the sale of beer and wine at its home hockey games during the upcoming season at AMSOIL Arena, the school announced this week.
Such sales are not allowed on campus, where the other UMD sports events are held, and have never been allowed at hockey games, and is seen as a source of new revenue for UMD.