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!