Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ely flaunts its bears, wolves, and root-beer

Though I usually focus on away-from-home travel stories, travel stories from one’s home state are worth the telling. Ely Minnesota is one of those places. Since taking my grandson there last year, I returned again this summer, this time with two grandchildren in tow. Here’s a story from that first trip in August 2007.

Ely is more than the entry to the Boundary Waters. Ely is home to Ted, a local celebrity who could once shimmy up trees with the best of them. He could gambol in play and run faster than others. Ted can no longer do these things because he weighs 900 lbs. Before you gasp in disbelief, I’ll reveal his identity. Ted is a black bear – a VERY LARGE black bear. Most wild male black bears weigh between 125 and 500 lbs. But Ted cannot be called wild. He is now a main attraction at the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota which opened in the spring of 2007.

900 lb. Ted Dines Daintily on Berries

When I left our North Shore home to drive 90 miles to Ely with my nine-year-old grandson Tommy, I’d planned on taking him to both the International Wolf Center one mile east of Ely and the Bear Center one mile west of Ely – stopping to visit the Dorothy Molter (better known as the “Root Beer” lady who achieved fame by living alone in a rustic cabin on a small island in the Boundary Waters until she died at the age of 87) Museum between both centers to refresh ourselves with a chilled bottle of her “Kwiturbeliakin” (Quit your belly-achin’) brew as had the more than 7,000 canoeists who stopped by to visit her every summer when she was alive. I planned to do all of this in one day.

Tommy Rides the Wolves in Ely

So much for plans. When my watch read 4:30 p.m. and my grandson was still clinging to the center windows trying to catch sight of the white wolves who were lazing about in the shade of their forested enclosure, I had to lure him away by promising him a cold root beer.

We arrived at the Dorothy Molter museum in time for the last guided tour. Nancy, our guide, had grown up in Ely and knew Dorothy Molter well, becoming part of a sizeable group of snowmobilers who would head out to Dorothy’s cabin every winter to help her cut the lake ice she’d store in her ice-house for chilling her homemade brew. When the Boundary Waters were closed to motorized vehicles of any kind and Dorothy’s fame allowed her to spend her final years on the island, the forest service and Outward Bound groups took up the slack – “though, truth be told there were a few snowmobilers who helped then too.”

My grandson, who fidgeted through the documentary on the wolves of Ely, sat spellbound during the presentation. He was especially impressed with the fact that Dorothy had to make several portages to get back to her cabin from a supply run to town -- carrying a 60 lb. pack of supplies strapped to her back, a 60 lb. pack strapped in front, and her 80 lb. canoe balanced over her head. He began calling Dorothy “that root beer girl,” in honor of her prowress.

Dorothy Molter's rustic and unheated bedroom

We stayed overnight at a small motel, had supper at the Chocolate Moose, played several rounds of mini-gulf, watched Ice Age (the movie) on the TV and after breakfast the next morning, (also at the Chocolate Moose) we headed to the North American Bear Center, arriving in time to see the bears being fed. Ted, who is the gentlest and the least agitated by the presence of humans, dined next to the window-wall which overlooks the two-acre bear enclosure. Ted -- who did not wolf his food as might be expected in a bear his size and took 10 minutes or more to dine one pile of berries -- is not the only bear in the enclosure.

A large light colored female black bear known as Honey Bear dined in the field behind the bears swimming pond, coming out of the woods and into the wild flowers only when she needed a sip of water from the pond.

Honey Bear is an impressive lady but prefers solitude to humans.

Meanwhile, a very small bear cub was being coaxed down from his high perch in a white pine. This little guy is not related to the other bears and much prefers humans to the grouchy Honey Bear, avoiding even Ted (who makes friendly overtures) so he spends a lot of time in trees, coming down only to be fed his bottle and berries, or to run after the caretaker as she leaves, standing mourning at the gate through which she has passed.

We spent the entire day at the Bear Center, which – like the Wolf Center -- is rich with interactive displays and story boards. Throughout the center monitors show bear activity in the area. And there is a “cub” room where even nine-year-old grandsons can hang out and play at being bears. Was it Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who chanted “Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!”? My grandson’s and my two-day trip to the wildlife centers and Molter museum in Ely made it a “Wolves and Bears and Root-beer, oh my!” kind of happening in Minnesota's Ely Oz.

This little guy loves bear hugs -- as long as they are human.

Adapted from an article published on Gather August 12, 2007


goooooood girl said...

Good good good......

christine said...

Your grandson sounds like an intelligent child and a joy to be with. Fun times in Ely!

Novel Nymph said...

i am adoring traveling with you, the things i learn about, and the way that you describe things...i am there in that moment. if i ever finish reading solzhenitsyn, your novel is up next!

did you like suite francaise? i just bought that a months ago...


Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

I'm reading Suite Francaise like the hummingbirds darting around our feeders. I sip, depart, and return again.

tinker said...

"Wolves and Bears and Root-beer, oh my!" - this post made me smile. As did the photos of Ted and your grandson.
I bet he - your grandson, not Ted :) -- will always remember that trip...