The Spark

One of our favorite modes of winter transportation/entertainment on the snowpacked roads of Tuscaroroa, or the lake is through the use of our Sparks.

Spark” is short for “Sparkstötting” (Swedish/Norwegian). In Finnish it is called “Potkukelkka”, meaning kick-sled.
The exact early history of the spark is lost in the mists of time, but the first confirmed sighting was in Sweden around 1870. Perhaps a Viking runestone will be found with a drawing of an early spark! My guess is that some inventive Swedish farmer nailed a chair to a pair of skis, and used it for hauling firewood. etc. “Spark” means “kick” and “Stöt” means “push”. The word “stötting” or “stutting” was also used for small sleds used for hauling wood.
Sparks were used for transportation and then for sport as it spread to larger cities. In 1888 Stockholms Sparkstöttingklubb was founded. The club leader was Viktor Balck, who later became one of the founders of the Olympic Games.
By the 1890’s sparks had spread to Norway and Finland. In 1900 the modern steel runnered spark was developed, and the design remained unchanged until now.
There were major competitions in Norway, Sweden and Finland. Spark racing was one of the 3 major events (besides skiing and skating) in the Nordic Games (Nordiska Spelen), which was the ancestor of the Winter Olympics. However, after 1910 or so, sparks were mainly used as a utility vehicle. Today they are still used in smaller towns.
(information taken from

This month, our sparks are even more valuable. Notice Shelby’s large green sock-covering a cast? She broke her leg while sliding, and has discovered the spark as a welcome substitute for her crutches around here!

Interested in building your own kicksled? Check out Northouse Folk School:


A pack of wolves share our territory-we see their scat around the lodge—we hear them howl. We get a kick out of listening to the pups as they try to match pitch with the older ones. Along our road, we’ve noticed a favorite place for the hunt.
Notice the high banks on either side of the river. Each winter, Denali has found more than one kill in this spot—last month was the latest. We can see where the deer unsuccessfully scramble up the bank.
This time of year we’re glad that the deer are abundant lest the wolves get a taste for black lab.

Robert Service

In this darkest time of the year, Robert Service has brightened up our lives. Shelby took out a Robert Service poetry book from the library. Both kids have figured that he knew what it was like to live at Tuscarora:

Listen to this Mom” ( snippets from The Spell of the Yukon)

The summer — no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill…….

And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o’ the world piled on top…….

The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’d bade ’em good-by — but I can’t……..

“Doesn’t it sound just like he’s been here?”

It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

So when the Cook County Herald was having a poetry contest, Shelby wrote a Robert Service-style poem on the bus.

The Moose
By Shelby Ahrendt
Age 11
193 Round Lake Road
Grand Marais, MN 55604

On a November Day we were making our way
Down the Gunflint Trail
The bus was cold, the silence was old
And the air was awfully stale.
Then the scene changed when something strange
Charged out of the underbrush,
It was dark as night and it gave me a fright
As it broke the silence and hush.

“A moose” said Chet and the brake his foot met
And we can screeching to a halt,
The moose looked at us and with all its must
It turned and began its assault.
At us it ran, horns out in a fan
And someone began to cry,
Then it swerved away, which saved the day
For we all thought we would die.

On that November Day we continued our way
Down the Gunflint Trail,
More fuel was burned, the silence returned
And the air was still awfully stale.
The bus rumbled on and we welcomed the dawn
Like any other day.
Just another moose, out on the loose
On the bus ride to Grand Marais.

Quinzee Building

  1. Native hunters used to build snow huts (Quinzees) to escape the elements….Shelby and Daniel build Quinzees because there is snow.

    Winter campers use Quinzees as a shelter for toasty sleeping conditions….Shelby and Daniel plan to create a village…if our snow holds.

How to build a Quinzee

  • Pile up the snow (do not pack it—it is better insulated if it is lofty). This can be powdery dry snow: the science behind it has to do with snowflake structure and fracture—when snowflakes of different temperatures are displaced and piled up a sintering process occurs, causing the snow to bond. Or you could use our friend Jim’s explanation—when you throw the snow flakes into the air, they scream and latch onto one another.

  • Wait for it to harden. If it is cold, this could take 1-3 hours. If it is warmer, 24 hours. If the weather is really wet and warm, the quinzee is never really ready, and has been known to cave in on a toddler, a preschooler and Granny (but obviously the experience didn’t scar them for life!)

  • Sometimes we find 6-12 inch sticks and stick them all over the outside of the Quinzee—for the digging out process (when you hit a stick with your shovel, you know to stop digging). The kids prefer to judge by the color of the walls—when they start getting thin, you can see the diffused sunlight—the walls become blue.

  • When you dig, plan to get wet. If you are winter camping, you want to make sure the door is not facing the wind—and you want to dig up at a slant for the entrance—so that the cold air can sink and exit as you warm the place up.

  • It can help to dig on your back on a sled—so that your digging partner can slide you out periodically. A sled can also transport snow out….

  • When you have hollowed out your Quinzee, you can light a candle inside so the walls will glaze up.

  • If you plan to sleep in the Quinzee, you’ll need ventilation through the ceiling. Most folks don’t cook inside one—definitely you’d need adequate ventilation to avoid dangerous carbon dioxide levels.

  • If you plan to spend the night, be sure to bring a shovel inside with you in case of blowing or drifting snow—over your exit. Even when it is cursed cold outside, it can get balmy inside the Quinzee!!