December 6, 2016
On December 21st the winter solstice will come to Grand Marais Minnesota. Though every day after this will be a little longer, the cold weather is just beginning. At the North House Folk School, they are celebrating this official beginning of winter. On this day and others, they are all about adapting and enjoying cold times in the north country.
“We do the winter solstice every year and it is really a good fun time,” said staff member Andrew Beavers. “The Good Harbor Hill Players come down and put on a really amazing solstice puppet pageant. It all culminates with a big bonfire. We get the fire pit up and roaring.”
This fire pit is available throughout the winter for students to enjoy, if they wish. Since heat is easier to contain when you have walls, most of the classes and activities do happen inside North House Folk School during the winter. One of these classes helps you to heat your own indoors. You can attend their “Masonry Heater Building” Class.
“That is a really popular class,” said Andrew. “You learn how to build a masonry heater. They are really very efficient. You typically only fire them once a day, because all of that masonry retains the heat so well and radiates heat in the whole house.”
They are also good because they are scalable. When you get back home you can use your new skills to build a big one for a house or a small one for a cabin or garage. Its ability to retain heat is good for safety in these cases. You could stick to firing the oven when you are going to be around, and have the fire out and the bricks still pumping out heat, when you are gone. North House Folk School is also about helping you enjoy walking warm in the winter, by taking “Expedition Footwear: Making Hide and Canvas Mukluks.”
“In that class you use a variety of techniques from hand stitching the leather and canvas together to using a power sewing machine,” said Andrew. “These mukluks are great winter footwear because they are super warm. They actually keep you warmer than stiff ridged boots because your foot can flex and you get better circulation when your foot flexes. Not only are they great to run through the snow in and play in the great north woods with but they are super functional and everyone comes out with a pair.”
To make a more exotic footwear to explore the cold landscape you can take “Craft of Birch Ski Making: Making Your Own Set.”
“What better way to explore the frozen landscape around here then on a pair of your own hand carved birch skis,” said Andrew. “You can make your own shape and design them for your purposes. You get an opportunity to customize them.”
Part of this customizing process is you can make a smaller pair of skis, which you can carry on your back and use when conditions are right on a winter hike. This year it is possible to make some ski and mukluks and later in the winter give them a field test, in the “Winter River Exploration” class.
“This class gets you out on these rivers that normally you wouldn’t be able to travel on,” said Andrew. “Because it is frozen, you can get into some of those canyons and crevices and learn not only about the river and the frozen landscape but also about the ecology of the north shore.”
But you can try your mukluks and or skis out right in town. There is usually plenty of snow in town and some years you can take them on the harbor. Either way you can have them for years to come when you look for winter adventures and ways to enjoy the frozen landscape.