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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!

 


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Superior National Forest Update: December 2

Hi. This is Brandee Wenzel, administrative support assistant, 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 2nd, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.

Our website is all set for winter if the weather would cooperate. There are links from our recreation page to our trail partners who groom ski trails, and to other sources for ski and snowmobile trail information. We also have some tips for driving on winter roads for those of us who have forgotten what snow is like over the summer.

One reason to be out in your car in the forest is that it’s the season for harvesting holiday greenery! Tags for Christmas trees are available for five dollars at district offices, and, if you are in fourth grade, you are eligible for a free Christmas tree tag through the Every Kid In A Park program! When you are selecting a tree, there are some rules to keep in mind. Trees cannot be ‘merchantable timber,’ in other words, they need to be small trees, not just the top off a big tree. The maximum stump height you can leave behind is 12 inches. The best tree to cut from a forest point of view is balsam fir. They grow back readily, and in many places we are looking to actually decrease the number of fir trees. True pines grow back more slowly, so we’d like to keep the young pine in the forest. You are not allowed to cut white pine or cedar for Christmas trees.

Balsam boughs may be harvested for wreaths, though you will need a permit for this activity. Princess pine, which is actually an herbaceous plant called a club moss, is often used to decorate wreaths, but its harvest is not allowed on the Superior National Forest.

Speaking of cutting balsam fir, people may have noticed either a piece of equipment or a crew with brush saws working in several areas this past season to remove brush and balsam fir. These areas will be planted in the spring with white pine, white cedar, and yellow birch. The young trees will be protected from deer with cages. We are doing this along the North Shore where we are working with partners including the state, private landowners, and the North Shore Forest Collaborative to restore some of these
long-lived forest trees. You may have seen the material being hauled with ATVs along County Road 6 and 60, at Pincushion, and around Cascade State Park, the Onion River Road, and Hovland.

On a grander scale, you can expect trucks hauling larger trees on Trestle Pine Road, Greenwood Road, Shoe Lake Road, Firebox Road, and Powers Lake Road. They are also using Blueberry Road, Rice Lake Road, Clara Lake Road, and the Honeymoon Trail. On the Tofte District, expect trucks on the Trappers Lake Road, Dumbell River Road, and Wanless Road. Use caution in these areas, especially with our wintery mix of road conditions including ice, mud, and slush.

Good luck to all in selecting the perfect tree, balsam bough, or just selecting the right road to travel. Enjoy the woods, and until next time, this has been Brandee Wenzel with the National Forest Update.

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 2

Well the weather outside’s been less than frightful, since our last meeting on the radio. Just when the north woods appeared to be into some serious ice making, the gods of meteorological happenings pulled up the reins.

Thanksgiving until the beginning of this scribing last Sunday evening, winter conditions have been on the brink of collapse in this neighborhood. A few more inches of snow was added to the pack early in the stanza, but settled invisibly into the previous storm totals nearly evaporating.  Add on four-tenths of an inch of rain by Monday morning and we’re in a sludgy mess around Wildersmith.

The thermometer has hung out at or near the freezing mark for days, not varying as much as a couple degrees from night time lows to day time highs. This in mind, our white blanket is soft and sticky making for slippery going on back country roads, driveways and walking surfaces. Thus a few unsuspecting urbanite visitors have found roadside ditches around the territory much to their disliking.

Speaking of slippery, such conditions have altered means of mobility at Wildersmith. Traversing down the driveway on foot is a slow, baby step adventure to avoid winding up on one’s posterior. Further, the idea of not being able to get my vehicle up the steep greasy grade has caused me to now park on top of the hill. For how long this will be needed is anyone’s guess. So getting to the vehicle has created double jeopardy. Caution is surely advised to all in this neck of the woods until a cool down makes for better traction on drier snow cover.
                            
Last weeks’ discussion of tracks in the snow has prompted intensified interest on wild beings’ extremity impressions. Just days ago footprints confirmed a visit from “brother wolf.” Although the critter was not observed, the near hand-sized paw prints found it meandering the yard in several different directions. The Canids’ presence is a bit unnerving, but then again, the adventure of knowing this iconic resident of the “untamed neighborhood” was close by energizes the primitive spirit of living in the wildlands. 
              
In the meantime, our next door neighbors recently met with what was perhaps another member of this upper Gunflint pack while traveling along the trail above Loon Lake. This meeting resulted in some great photo ops as the handsome animal tracked beside the byway. See a couple digital shots of their experience alongside my column on the web at WTIP.org. This lone wolf is a robust beauty.

In other snowy tracks activity, it’s evident a fox is making routine nocturnal visits to the yard. Then a couple days ago, the lush red hunter made a reality appearance, trotting by our deck. I do not purposely put food out, but I do catch an abundance of mice type rodents in my out- buildings. I toss them out into the snow and by next morning, all these dietary supplements are gone. It is my guess this might be an attraction for this foxy one.
          
With some assurance the bears have gone to napping, I’ve started putting provisions out on the deck side rail. To say our “wild ground and airborne friends” are busy keeping track of these handouts is an understatement. This in mind, another furry creature anecdote is worthy of mention
Within 24 hours of stocking the outdoor feed trough, those poultry poaching pine martens stopped in, making their first up close appearance since last spring. Lucky for them, the cupboard was not bare, and they’ve been regulars each day since.      
                                 
The world is now into week one of our next holiday season. Trail residents are reminded of the third annual Gunflint Trail Holiday Open House, Saturday, December 3rd. The event commences at 4 p.m. and runs until 7 p.m. at the Schaap Community Center (Mid Trail Fire Hall No. 1).  
                                                                                                                              
Once again sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMS Crew, dinner and refreshments will be provided. All are welcome, and in the spirit of this giving season, please bring a donation for our local food shelf. 
                                                               
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great as we wait for the real “Jack Frost” to get with it for keeps!

(Photo By Margo Brownell)

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Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove Community School: December 2

Jack, Goshi, and Kalina report the latest school news.

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Sawbill Lake, on a windy day, looking deceptively like open water, but it is actually ice - flooded by rain.

West End News: December 1

Congratulations to Craig Horak who has stepped up to fill the Tofte Township Supervisor position recently vacated by Paul James. Craig is a natural for the job. He was born and raised in Tofte at his parents' resort, Cobblestone Cabins. Craig and his wife Ellen have chosen to make Tofte their home and plan to raise their daughter there.

I'm glad to see younger people taking leadership roles in the West End. A regular infusion of new thinking in the community, combined with the wisdom of the elders, is a healthy thing. Speaking of elders, Craig's father, Jan Horak, served as the Tofte Township Treasurer shortly after the township was formed, back in the old, old days, so township government seems to run in the family.

As I've said before, township government is sometimes fun - and sometimes not so fun - and almost always a bit tedious. It is, however, the level of government that most directly impacts our lives and is vitally important, so I applaud those who serve.

If you're looking for fun with very little tedium, mark your calendar for the annual meeting of the Superior Timberwolves Sportsman's Club on Tuesday, December 6. Although this is the annual business meeting for the West End snowmobile club, it is more importantly a social hour, starting at 5:00, followed by potluck dinner from 6 to 7:00. A short business meeting will follow, but it beats washing the dishes any day. It all happens at the Tofte Town Hall.

Tofte native, Danielle Hansen, will be singing in the St. Olaf Christmas Festival this year. You may think, "what's the big deal about someone singing in their college Christmas program?" Well, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival is not your typical college musical event. It is truly a world class concert and you have to be a singer of the absolute highest quality to be allowed to participate. The training and rehearsal are a serious commitment and not easy. This is a very big deal for Danielle and for her parents, Paul Hansen and Diane Blanchette, who I'm sure are proud of their talented daughter. Danielle, it should be pointed out, is a 2015 graduate of Cook County High School.

The roads over the hill were virtually undriveable for a few days last week. I hasten to say that the bad roads were a victim of circumstances, not a lack of care by the county highway department. When the snow arrived last week the road surfaces were not yet frozen. This requires the plow drivers to keep their blades a few inches about the gravel to keep from plowing a thick layer of saturated gravel into the ditches. The ensuing rain turned the snow on the roads into dense slush - the kind that grabs control of the car from the driver and pulls it inexorably toward the ditch - even at slow speeds. Actually, normal speeds weren't even an option with the slush literally slowing even four wheel drive vehicles to a crawl. Now that is been driven on for a few days it is much better.

Many of the lakes in the back country were also weirdly affected by the rain. The lakes had already frozen over and received a few inches of snow. The rain melted the snow, but not the ice, leaving an inch or two of standing water on top of the ice from shore to shore. The ice is black, so it was an optical illusion with the lake looking like it would on a dead calm day even when the wind was blowing briskly. Overall, it was an eerie and unsettling effect. If only we would have received a quick cold snap at that moment - the ice skating would have been spectacular. Fingers crossed for some good skating eventually, but you never really know what mother nature has in store for us here in the beautiful West End.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School

School News from Sawtooth Mountain Elementary: November 28

Cy, Selena, and Neveah report the latest school news.

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Northern Sky: November 26 - December 9

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

The story of the Pleiades; a young crescent moon in the evening sky; the triangle of Venus, Mars and Fomalhaut.

(photo by NASA/Hubble via Wikimedia Commons)


 

North Woods Naturalist: The language of bark, part 1

WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the Language of Bark. This is part one of a two-part North Woods Naturalist feature. 

(Photo by Evelyn Berg on Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 25

The yearly spending madness in America is officially underway with the “black Friday” weekend. In the midst of this coming mayhem, I hope your Thanksgiving Holiday has been stuffed with a joyous time of family, friends and goodies from the bounty of all who made it possible. Further, if you were able to share our abundance with someone less fortunate, kudos for your decency and generosity, you can’t be thanked enough!

“There’s no business like snow business.” Finally, after much wringing of hands about when and if it would ever come to these parts, production and distribution got under way. Last weekend's snow and return to more normal temps has the landscape in dazzling white, with the forest flocked to the hilt.

We’re even into ice-making on some of the smaller lakes with the mercury hitting the nothing mark in places up at this end of the Trail (it was zero at Wildersmith and slightly below at Seagull Lake).

This neighborhood did not receive what prognosticators envisioned, but neither was it a bust. Our first measurable dose piled up at seven inches, and with the accompaniment of howling winds during the storm, it looked like much more in many locales. Guess some might consider ourselves lucky compared to the upwards of two feet that fell in several North Country counties to the west. However, for a few of us “zanies,” there can never be too much.

I find interesting the excitement created when forecasters begin to sensationalize the coming of a first winter storm. It would seem everyone’s trigger is tripped, whether” the coming” is with scorn or elation. Beginning with the first reveal of a cold season storm advisory, suspense begins to build. Questions, of when will the furies of such arrive; how much will it pile up; and how bad will it get, resound throughout the kingdom.

Evolvement of the situation intensifies if the “watch” turns into a “warning.” Folks edge up on their seats and ears perk to the media, many in disgust, with others in hope of a doozy. The storm is getting close, it seems to be real; will I be able to get home, or get out; is my vehicle ready; do I have enough food; will the power and communications be interrupted; will the snow blower start; where’s my shovel; will school be dismissed early or called off? Oh so many concerns echo through our minds.

Arrival is confirmed as trifle flurries at first, energy then escalates to a full blown visit from the “Polar Express.” Curiosity whets our senses, noses to the glass watching a calm vertical descent of the heavenly flakes, while ears detect howling air suggesting a horizontal delivery. Whatever the means of conveyance, the magical sensation of snow whitening the world around us is capturing.

Seldom lasting for more than a few hours or a day or two, the work of “old man winter” idles down to an end. The body of this “old guy's” toiling lies in varying states of crystal serenity. With our mini-universe blanketed in white, the results, are sometimes not as bad as predicted and others far worse than anticipated. Regardless of one’s opinion on the end product, it’s difficult to argue the peaceful splendor of new fallen snow.

In immediate days following the cold atmospheric drama, our wilderness territory comes alive with intriguing, mysterious signs of life we have not seen for months. Tracks of “wild kingdom” critters indent the bleached carpet in infinite shapes, sizes and directions. For yours truly and other outdoors people, the wonder and curiosity associated with critters leaving a trace is beyond the ordinary “what,” “why” and “when” of human understanding. Tracks, tracks everywhere make living in the wilderness setting a deeply profound encounter into the “wild”unknown.

Oddly enough, enthusiasm for the first winter season happening does not wane. For many folks, it seems subsequent wintry episodes conjure up the same anticipatory energies as the initial act. So for us winter enthusiasts, bring it on, the joy of the times are at hand. Happy snow activities to all!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and having them with snow cover is even more delightful!

(Photo by Tony Hisgett on Flickr)

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Henry Wehseler, 1921-2016

West End News: November 24

I was saddened to hear, somewhat belatedly, that Henry Wehseler, long-time Tofte resident and the former owner of the North Shore Market in Tofte, had passed away more than a month ago.

Henry was born in St. Martin, Minnesota, in 1921, the son of German immigrant parents. He spoke German at home as a child and retained a soft German accent his whole life.

Henry served in the Civilian Conservation Corps and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He and Florence, his wife of nearly 72 years, moved to Sawbill Landing after the war. Sawbill Landing was a temporary town that existed to house the loggers who worked the giant Tomahawk timber sale in the country east of Isabella.

Henry told me that he brought one of the very first chainsaws with him when he came to start logging. In those days, loggers were paid by piece-work and he figured the chainsaw would give him an advantage over the other loggers who were still using 40" bow saws to cut pulp. The early chainsaws were huge, heavy and unreliable. Henry, who was always firm in his opinions, stuck with the chainsaw for a few weeks before reluctantly setting it aside in favor of the bow saw, which was still the fastest tool for the job.

The timber company would set up a skid road through the sale, just passable enough for a tractor to drag a dray of logs, and then would assign each logger a 40 acre plot on one side of the trail. Each logger was responsible for felling the trees, cutting them to 100 inch lengths and piling them on the side of the skid road for loading. When I asked Henry how he moved the logs from the woods to the skid road, I was astonished to hear him say that he did it by hand. He would fell the tree, always in the direction of the road to save distance, buck it to length and then end-for-end each log to the landing. It would be no exaggeration to say that this was among the most physically demanding jobs in the history of the world. Also, being that it was piece-work, Henry worked incredibly long days. I'll never forget that when I incredulously asked Henry how he withstood this unimaginable hard labor, he shrugged and said with simple understatement, "oh, you toughen up after a few weeks."

When the Tomahawk timber sale wound down in the mid-1960s, Henry, Florence and their three boys moved to Tofte. While Henry continued to log and work construction, Florence went to work for Albin and Edith Nelson at the Long Lake Lumber Company store in Tofte. The store mostly provided groceries for the many transient lumber camps that were deep in the woods during that era. The foreman would drop off a grocery list from each lumberjack and then swing by to pick them up the next day. Florence would pack the groceries in a cardboard box for each lumberjack, so the groceries would stay safe during the rough ride back to camp in the foreman's pickup.

Around the time it became more of grocery store for the general public, Henry and Florence bought the store and operated it for more than 30 years. They continued to supply the camps and also served as a informal social service agency for the lumberjacks. For the whole time that he owned the store, Henry continued to pack groceries in cardboard boxes, much to the puzzlement of his tourist customers. At Sawbill, for many years, we saved all our cardboard boxes and brought them to Henry. We always called them "Henry boxes."

Henry didn't believe in borrowing money, so he expanded the store a few times over the years as he was able to save the money. After the store was fully built out, Henry and Florence saved up and built a beautiful home for themselves on a large piece of property across the Sawbill Trail from the store.

The North Shore Market, which is now the Tofte General Store, was the social hub of the West End while the Wehselers owned it. They worked there all day, every day, except for Sunday afternoons. Henry knew everyone in the community, as long as they shopped at the store. It was his work life, social life and personal life, all rolled into one. I can only remember Henry taking one vacation in all the years that he ran the store. It was to attend a reunion of his navel outfit and he was gone for two days. He did love to pick blueberries and could always be found in the berry patch during the few Sunday afternoons that came around during berry season.

Henry and Florence allowed people to charge groceries at the store and pay one bill at the end of the month. I know for a fact that if a family was having a particularly hard time, especially if they had children, their grocery charge would be forgiven. Henry and Florence treated everyone the same and assumed you were a good person until you proved them wrong.

Henry had a particular friendship with Cook County's famous Sheriff, John Lyght. John liked to tease Henry about breaking the law because he knew that Henry would rather die than break a law.

Henry also had a warm friendship with Senator Paul Wellstone, who frequently vacationed in Tofte. When he was in town, Senator Wellstone would walk to the store each morning to buy the daily newspapers. He and Henry would discuss the issues of the day while the Senator drank a few cups of coffee and skimmed the news. Henry was honest and forthright in his opinions with everyone, including the Senator, and was not shy if he disagreed. Senator Wellstone told me numerous times that he held Henry in very high regard and valued his friendship, precisely because he was so honest and unfazed with the Senator's high office.

Henry and Florence eventually sold the store and started splitting their time between Tofte and Florida. A few years ago, they sold their house and moved to Little Falls to be near Florence's relatives. Henry died on October 16th at the age of 95. He is survived by his wife, Florence, sons Richard, Gary and Bill, along with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He played a big role in the lives of so many people in the West End and was instrumental in making it the lovely community that is is today. Rest in peace, my friend.

For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

 

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School students share why they are thankful

The Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School students have an annual Thanksgiving tradition of sharing why they are thankful. In this feature, third graders in Amanda Hand, Lorelei Livingston and Julie Viren's classrooms recite their special holiday poems.

 
The final holiday greeting is from the combined second and third grade classes.

(Photo by J. Neal Goggins on Flickr)

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