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AM Community Calendar/photo by masochismtango on Flickr

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News and information, interviews, weather, upcoming events, music, school news, and many special features. North Shore Morning includes our popular trivia question - Pop Quiz! The North Shore Morning program is the place to connect with the people, culture and events of our region!

 


What's On:
Orion setting

Northern Sky: December 24 - January 6

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota, where she authors the Minnesota Starwatch column.

Venus will be bright in the southwest sky - not to be confused with a UFO! Jupiter will be high in the sky just before dawn, bright winter constellations will dominate the eastern sky, and on New Year's Day a young crescent moon will be close to Venus.

(Photo by Richard Droker on Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 23

As the northland awaits the big Christmas day, the discussion is all about cold. Baby. it’s been cold outside. Beginning this week's Gunflint report, the “great spirit of the Arctic” has spent a good many days in the northwoods. For some folks in our territory, “his coldness” may be wearing out his welcome.

In the Wildersmith neighborhood, up through last Sunday when I started this keyboard exercise, we have not seen the plus side of zero in eight straight days. The mid-December trek toward the shortest daylight minutes of the year has felt much like January, but in the past few 24 hour segments, it has warmed some and snowed a little.

While temps to this point haven’t measured down to those of decades ago, the bitter cold has roughed us up a bit due to the warmth of just a few weeks ago. Our adjustment to real winter character has been rather harsh. 

Winds during the early days of this sub-zero stretch were not only biting to us two-legged beings, but the cold blasts also had waters on the big lakes out this way in turmoil. As waves bashed our shore lines, ice build-up has smoothed the jagged granite shards into velvety mounds of cupcake frosting.

In a continuance of last week's discussion of our vaporous lake surface, the decorating has been enhanced into the thickest forest flocking during my eighteen winters living in border country. Relentless west-northwest currents have made this wonderland more winter-like than one might ever imagine. This rocking and rolling water came about in cooling readiness for the big freeze.

Bound to subside eventually, the raucous air calmed last weekend allowing the Gunflint Gal to start slipping on her winter coat. By Sunday morning, the “Zamboni” finished the job. With the official ice-on date of December 18, this lake is already complaining about the fit, with some screeching conversation and a couple thunderous belches after less than 24 hours.

Thinking about how difficult extreme cold affects members of the “wild neighborhood,” I’m intrigued observing animals coming through the yard with frost accumulations on some of their body extremities. It’s hard to imagine them surviving when I see one draped with frost on its back, ear tips, forehead, eyelashes and whiskers. Some probably don’t endure, but most do, and it makes me shiver at the thought of how cold they must get. Obviously, “Mother Nature” has blessed them with amazing adaptive capabilities.

A few mornings ago, one of those red squirrels came to the feed tray with a fascinating set of white whiskers and a frosted tip on its tail. Moments later, our regular pair of “whiskey jacks” showed up with distinguished icing around their beaks and eyelashes. How cool was this!

Since our last meeting on the radio, a couple not-seen-so-often-visitors appeared at Wildersmith. First, was a fisher coming to the deck for a little dark hours scavenging. This pine marten on steroids was sizeable, perhaps large as spaniel like dog. Lush and healthy looking, it made short work of its small cousin's poultry treats, and then was off into the night.

The other visitor was a total surprise considering the brutal cold. Perhaps due to the still open Gunflint Lake water at the time, maybe I should have realized this could be possible in the waning migratory season. I’m talking about a mallard duck.

The “quacker” arrived in the midday hours, somehow getting up to ground level in front of our deck (around 125 feet from the shore). It was discovered slurping up spilled sunflower seeds as if there were no tomorrow, and shivering almost uncontrollably. Thinking it should be left alone, and not knowing what I would do with it if a rescue was attempted, I dropped more seeds which it consumed before waddling back toward the lake.

One would think it may not have survived another cold night. I wondered what or who might celebrate a duck dinner. Much to my surprise, the next morning it was back, nestled in a snowy crater scraping up more left-overs.

I had fleeting thoughts that this “lonesome duck” might become a regular when “old Piney” who had been dining on the mezzanine discovered this feathered visitor. The carnivorous fur ball snuck part way down a deck support post to check it out. The duck apparently sensed impending danger, found the marten leering at him and took flight toward the lake. The last I saw of this obviously “Cold Duck,” it landed and scooted down into the icy H2O. Meanwhile the marten decided against a chase and came back to the fast food tray.

By Sunday, with open water no longer available, only two possible outcomes remained in this frigid drama, this “Donald” (and I don’t mean Trump) went airborne to the south, or it sadly became a “ducksicle” treat on the wildland menu.

A somber note came to me reporting the loss of a bull moose along the Trail last Saturday night. A couple coming up the Trail found the animal being removed from the shoulder of the road just beyond the South Brule River bridge. Details of the situation are not known, but it is disheartening to hear. If the death involved a vehicle, the hope is none of the passengers were injured and their mode of transportation was not damaged totally. I might have more info by next time we meet.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, wishing everyone safe travels, and happy holidays to all, and to all, a great day! 

 

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North Woods Naturalist: Christmas balsam firs

Balsam fir are popular Christmas trees, but they do have male and female flowers on the larger ones. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about problems you could have with trees sporting male buds.

(Photo by Kent McFarland)

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Bill and his daughter Clare found this freshly shed moose antler while out grooming the ski trail at Sawbill

West End News: An interview with Bill Hansen and Clare Shirley

Bill Hansen has been the voice of the West End News for the past 5 years. Bill’s daughter, Clare, will be taking over this weekly report, and Jay Andersen recently spoke with both Bill and Clare about this transition.

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School

School News from Sawtooth Mountain Elementary: December 20

Landon, Talon, and McCoy report the latest school news.

Click here for archived editions of school news.

 

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Great Expectations Charter School

School News from Great Expectations: December 17

Noah and Wren report the latest school news.

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winter trees

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 16

Excitement is building as the birthday of all birthdays nears. Our holiday season is officially in the books for 2016 as the lonesome pine sentinel along the Trail has been lit for yet another year.

What a joy it is coming around the curve and down the hill beside Birch Lake to be greeted by the towering spruce all a glow with hundreds of twinkling bobbles to break up the darkest of darkness. Thanks to those folks on Birch for lighting up our wilderness lives. 

Another kick-off for our season’s greetings is recognized with the annual Borealis Holiday Concert of last weekend. A number of our Gunflint Trail neighbors lent their voices and instrumental talents to this “joy to the world” spectacle. Congrats to all participants and organizers.    

Add to these humankind happenings, the arrival of the full Ojibwe, “little spirit moon” within the last few days, and one could not ask for a brighter time in the final stanza of the year.

Conditions for winter time fanciers have been given a boost over the past seven with our first extended cold spell, better late than never. While new snow accumulations to date have been minimal, what’s on the landscape currently has been secured by Arctic cold.   

How cold was it? Not too terrible compared to days of old, but enough to get one’s attention when stepping out the door in-route to the wood shed for an armload of fire wood. An expectation of more sub-nothing temps by this scoop’s air time, might make our Wildersmith low temp of minus twelve last Sunday morning pale in frigidity.  
                  
The arrival of zero and below temps finds the yet to be frozen Gunflint Lake a steamy caldron. While waters are warm in comparison to the air above, this yearly occurrence has ghostly plumes drifting ashore from this warm/cold interaction. Accordingly, every appendage up into the shoreline forest is coated in delicate crystal frosting.  

The magnificence of this nature-made artistry is almost beyond comprehension. The frosted elegance is the subject of which Hallmark cards are made. The only stopping of this “Jack Frost” decorating show will occur when the winds calm, allowing the Gunflint Gal to put on her winter coat. 
                                                                                                              
Meanwhile, our winter advance is peaceful and quiet. With exception of chattering critters and snapping tree bark, our snowy landscape is still, in and of itself. Flakes are profoundly quiet as they accumulate, but once on the ground, the buildup can become somewhat vocal, as we humans disturb the covering by stepping in it.  

Such has become evident with the decline in temperatures during recent days. I find walking through the marshmallow mass to be fascinating, as each step meets the crystal surface compressing our fluff. Perhaps listeners, too, have noted a difference in tonal quality from warm soft snow to the crispy dry cold stuff. 
                                                                                                                         
Whereas, our earlier precipitation descended barely in a solid state and landed on warm earth, trekking in such happened in mere quiet, then to a slight “squoosh.” Over the past few days, a discernable change is noted while tromping in the drier crystal add-ons. As temps declined, it might be said each step caused the snow to mildly “bark” back at me. As the temp neared zero, each imprint then seemed to “squeak”, and on Sunday morning, when it was well below zero, the squeaking became a deeper, hollow resonance. 

I’ve read of such tonal exchanges while walking in the snow from a weather observer in Iowa, and sure enough, he seems to be right on. So, if you ever see me walking down the road on a winter day, seemingly talking to myself, I might be just visiting with the white majesty beneath my boots.     
                                                                                                                                                                    
On another subject, as this territory is in the flyway for many migratory birds, I came upon an informative article in the December/January Nature Conservancy publication. If such interests you, I’d recommend finding a copy and looking at the scribing, “Safe Flight—100 Years Of Protecting Birds.” The content is interesting commentary for digesting on a cold winter night. 
                                                                                                                                                 
For a final note, since this is also bear country, another thought provoking article appears in the recent Sierra magazine for January/February of ’17. Although this reading is focused on brown bears of the Northern Rockies, it has relevance to those of us who live in black bear territory. “The Return Of The Grizzly” by Aaron Teasdale relates to human/bear interactions, much like we experience here in border country. Again, if listeners can get a copy, the author relates an insightful look at how we should be living in close proximity with Ursine.    
                                                                                                                                                        
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, in a superbly natural way.
 

(Photo courtesy of Tom on Flickr)
 

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Superior National Forest Update: December 16

Hi. This is Renee Frahm, visitor information and administrative support specialist, with this week’s National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior National Forest. For December 16, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

 Only about a week to get out and get a Christmas tree for this year! Tags are five dollars, but if you have a fourth grader in the ‘Every Kid In A Park’ program, they can get a free tree tag! When you are looking for a tree, keep an eye out also for the dense clusters of branches often called witch’s brooms. While witch’s brooms might seem to relate more to Halloween than the current season, they are caused by Eastern Dwarf Mistletoe. Mistletoe has long been considered a mystical plant, and the tradition of kissing under it was once considered a promise of marriage. Peace treaties were also signed under mistletoe, and warring couples could kiss and make up beneath a ball of mistletoe. So, depending on who you are tree hunting with, you may choose to steer them under, or take them far away from any mistletoe you find!

There’s a lot of winter though before summer travels begin. We’ve lost over six hours of daylight since June 21st, so if you think it has been dark, you are absolutely right. We are close to the longest night of the year, the winter solstice on December 21st, but after that low point, our days will start to lengthen again. The average temperature lags behind day length though, so it won’t be until much later that we start seeing increases in average temperatures. Since you can’t do much about our long cold nights, you may as well get out and enjoy them. Winter is one the best times to go stargazing. The cold air is still and dry and gives a better view of stars than the warm wet summer air. Long nights mean you don’t have to stay up late to see the stars, there are no mosquitoes, and there’s better chances of seeing the aurora as well.

We finally have some snow on the ground, and our trail partners have been working on grooming cross country ski and snowmobile trails. Most ski trails are in the process of being groomed. Pincushion and Sugarloaf ski areas are compacted, but not groomed, although that information could already be out of date. Similarly, bogs in the Flathorn-Gegoka ski area were insufficiently frozen for grooming, but with our recent cold spell, that may have changed. Check our website for links to the grooming organizations, which will give you more up to the minute information on trail conditions. Snowmobiles need a bit more snow that skis, so most of the snowmobile trails are still not groomed, and many are closed.

While you’re out checking out trails, you may find some log hauling going on. On Gunflint, hauling is taking place on Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, Trestle Pine Road, Rice Lake Road, Clara Lake Road, and Honeymoon Trail.  Portions of Firebox Road and Trestle Pine Road are also designated snowmobile trails, so snowmobilers need to be extra cautious and aware that hauling may be taking place on these roads. In Tofte, you’ll have logging traffic on the Grade and Trapper’s Lake Road. Please use caution when driving or recreating in these areas. 

There will be no update next week, so happy holidays to everyone from the Superior National Forest! Enjoy the woods, watch out for mistletoe, and until next time, this has been Renee Frahm with the National Forest Update.

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An interview with Nocka, the elf

This is a busy time of year for Santa’s elves – and WTIP's Sherrie Lindskog was lucky enough to be able to talk with an elf.

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North Woods Naturalist: Varied weather and otters

Cold weather swings and not-the-usual suspects at the bird feeder.  WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the winter so far.

(Photo by Amit Patel on Flickr)

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