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North Shore Digest

North Shore Digest airs on WTIP Monday-Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. (hankoss/Flickr)

  • Monday 5-6pm
  • Tuesday 5-6pm
  • Wednesday 5-6pm
  • Thursday 5-6pm
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News & Information
North Shore Digest airs from 5-6 p.m. weekdays and is the place to get caught up with what’s happening in your backyard and beyond, with international and national news from the Associated Press and local news from WTIP's News Department. The program always incorporates local announcements and events, significant interviews with local people and newsmakers, a mix of music, and features like National Native News, School News, and the Minnesota News Connection. 

What's On:

A Year in the Wilderness: February 25 - Reflecting in the sleet

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences traveling the BWCAW.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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Sunny's Back Yard: The very tall deer

Sunny tells us about a recent unusual visitor to her Back Yard.

Sunny has lived off-grid in rural Lake County for the past 17 years and is a regular commentator on WTIP. Here she shares what's been happening in Sunny's Back Yard.

(Photo by Dwayne Ewers on Flickr)

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Vicki on her kick-sled

Magnetic North: The stuff of dreams

Welcome back to Magnetic North, where the resident goats, chickens, ducks, bunnies, et al. are as baffled by our on-again-off-again, winter as are we all.

The recent rain/sleet/snow of late made chores a sloppy mess, but the result was unexpected bliss. Until this series of events, the snow base was just a little too soft for me to enjoy my daily and nightly kick sled rides up and down the driveway, and more importantly, the use of the sled to hold feed and water buckets on the twice daily chore runs. Now, however, the frozen hard layer exists and I am once more slip-slidin’ away through the winter.

My favorite time to ride is between the hours of 10 p.m. and midnight. Think aurora borealis. Or stars so numerous and visible that it looks like the sky is dusted with powdered sugar. Or, as was the case just two nights ago, a full moon turning the new-fallen snowflakes into diamonds. Diamonds that painted the meadow and the backs of my mittens and flew up around the rungs of my sled as I sailed silent as a soft owl.

Tis the stuff of dreams, unless you are my daughter living in L.A. hearing this and demanding to know if I have my phone in my parka pocket while I am swanning about in the dead of night on a sled(!!!!) in the middle of “nowhere.” The answer is “yes, dear.” Ahhh, the sweetness of payback for all those nights when she was in high school and blowing through her curfew. Life is really, really, really good sometimes, isn’t it?

On a more somber note, not all at the farm has been moonbeams and chuckles. This weekend I tried in vain to doctor my majestic rooster, Mr. Fancy. A ridiculously fluffy blue-grey ball of sweetness, Fancy came to me as a “free, rare and exotic mystery chick” with my yearly Murray McMurray chick order. For “free” read “rooster.” So if anyone is averse to crowing, don’t bite on this offer. Only once in the 25 years of ordering have I been sorry that I went for the freebie and that was when I got a nasty little piece of business called a “game cock.” But Fancy was the best. Protective of his hens, always showing them the choicest morsels of food before partaking himself and posing strutting his stuff like a rock star when kids came to visit the farm.

I will miss him. And no, I will not take the mystery chick this spring. Fancy was just too great a rooster to top. Plus, I still have a crazy little bantam rooster crowing his head off!

It is snowing again today and I have new straw to throw into the coop and barn - the critter equivalent of starry snowflakes for us. Paul used to call it “putting on the clean sheets,” and that’s just what it is. The goats stand in the doorway to the barn as I break up the bales of golden straw, covering up the old and hardened bottom layer. Bosco, my big buff colored cashmere wether, likes to get in there with me, employing his handsome horns to lift up the flakes of straw, rearranging them as he sees fit. The others just baa a bit, eager to see if there might be some tasty bits in the bedding.

Over in the coop, though, the job is much simpler. I just take off the baling twine and let the hens tear the big bale apart. This is akin to a day at the Alpine Slide to a chicken. Scratching, flinging straw, and generally wearing themselves out rearranging all the flakes. By evening chores, the floor of the coop has been transformed into one cozy comforter of golden straw with the hens up on their roosts gazing down on their handiwork. Spent, but happy.

And so, as we head toward the spring equinox, just weeks and more hours of daylight from now, all is well at the farm. Come rain or snow. Sad farewells and remembered joys. Winter gives me the time and space to sort and piece together these things. Winter and the solitude of life at the end of a gravel road 14 miles from town and two miles uphill from the big lake. What scares some, suits me just fine. As it does, I imagine, most of you listening right now,

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Snow fleas

West End News: February 25

I was very excited to see a healthy looking cow moose on the road the other day. It seemed to have a thick winter coat and was not wearing a collar.  Why was I excited? Because I drive the back roads of the West End as much as anybody and I almost never see a moose anymore.
 
When our kids were in school, which was less than 10 years ago, we saw many moose – so many that the kids became blasé – barely willing to be roused from their reverie to take a look at even the most magnificent moose. It was so routine as to be bordering on boring.
 
Everyone knows that the moose are disappearing from Minnesota, but no one really seems to know why. In the last year, I’ve read conflicting expert opinions, including too many wolves, too many ticks, too much hot weather in the summer, not enough cold weather in the winter, climate change in general, over-hunting, habitat loss, viruses, not enough logging, too much logging and most recently, too many deer.
 
With all due respect to wildlife biologists, it really seems that nobody knows. And, none of the expert opinions strike me as being completely objective and non-political, no matter how well intentioned.
 
I certainly don’t claim to know what the problem is, but I’m beginning to suspect that it may be unknowable. It may be the case that the sheer complexity of a functioning ecosystem is beyond the ablility of the human brain to fully understand. In other words, life in the forests of northeastern Minnesota may be connected in so many subtle and intricate ways that it may not be possible to tease out the one, six or a dozen causes for moose population decline. It is at least possible that the there are hundreds, if not thousands of ecological relationships that can alter forest dynamics resulting in the simple fact that the moose can no longer survive here.
 
The moose are not the only species that is in flux during the last decade. All over the world, animal populations are declining or growing in unexpected ways. Even a casual observer here in the West End can tell you that there have been many changes over the last half century – literally dozens of species that used to be common and are now rare, and dozens more that were never seen here and are now common. It could be reasonable to conclude that whatever is causing this general trend may be causing the moose decline.
 
Switching from large wildlife to tiny wildlife, I was delighted to see a large outbreak of snow fleas this week. Snow fleas are tiny black insects that mysteriously appear on snowbanks in the middle of the winter.  They are called snow fleas because, although they are no larger than a speck of dust, they are prodigious jumpers. They appear in flocks, or perhaps swarms might be more accurate, and as you draw near to inspect them they jump so fast and far that they give the illusion of just abruptly disappearing.
 
I should point out that they are not actually fleas and do not bite. Their taxonomic name is Collembola, and while they are in the group that includes insects, they technically are not classified as insects. Their eyes are not proper compound eyes, their abdomen has fewer segments and some special extra appendages that insects don’t have. They are commonly known as springtails, due to a couple of appendages that look like tails that play a large role in their incredible jumping ability.
 
The sources I read are a little vague about why the snow fleas emerge on the surface of deep snow during warm late winter days. I feel like they are more common when the snowpack is deeper. It is a fact that they are cute and interesting, occupying one of the more unique ecological niches in the woods.
 
There is plenty of snow over the hill this year for the snowfleas and everyone else who enjoys snow. I measured 32” on the deck this morning. That is down a little since the rain we had last week.

Slush remains a serious impediment to travel on the lakes, at least in the Sawbill area. The slush has been bad all winter, but finally started to freeze up during the last cold snap. Sadly, just a day or two later the rain brought it back with a vengeance. It has been common this year to see camping parties head out on Sawbill Lake with full camping gear only to see them return a few hours later, get in their cars and leave.
 
Hopefully, the late winter cycle of freeze and thaw will soon create a crust on the lakes and rivers that will make travel a joy and the epic slush of 2016 an unpleasant memory.
 
 

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School News from Oshki Ogimaag: February 19

Hunter reports the latest news from Oshki Ogimaag Community School in Grand Portage.

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A Year in the Wilderness: February 18 - Cold weather guests

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences traveling the BWCAW.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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North Woods Naturalist: Snow drifting

There’s more to snow drifts than beautiful shapes.  WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the process of drifting snow.

(Photo by James Jordan on Flickr)
 

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West End News: February 11

Congratulations to the Cook County High School Alpine Ski team on their highly successful season.  The girl’s team recently won the Section 7 championship, competing against more than 20 other teams, including some perennial powerhouses. 
 
Head Coach Charles Lamb, from Schroeder, has done a terrific job with the team.  He has sacrificed nearly all his fishing time to his coaching duties.  If you knew how much Charles likes to fish, you would really appreciate his commitment to the cause.
 
I’d also like to point out how lucky we are to have the premier ski area in the Midwest right here in the West End.  Not only is Lutsen Mountains a great facility, they have a long history of supporting the high school team.  They also support a strong junior program that is clearly paying off at the high school and college level for kids across Cook and Lake Counties.  Who knows when and where the next Cindy Nelson or Lindsey Vonn will appear.
 
It was fun to see Lutsen’s own Willard Nelson on virtually every regional media outlet as he celebrated the 75th anniversary of his induction into World War II military service. I saw Willard interviewed on Channel 6 while he was attending a reunion of other veterans at the Pickwick in Duluth. 
 
Many people who don’t know Willard may have been surprised to hear him say he is 101 years old. Here in the West End, no one is surprised that Willard is still going strong after an eventful 100 plus years of life. His quick wit and outgoing personality have made him a West End legend. He mentioned in his TV interview that he is the oldest resident on the North Shore. Knowing Willard, I’m sure that it’s an accurate statement.
 
Just a quick second notice that the Bloodmobile will be at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte on Tuesday, March 1, from 2:30 through 6 pm. Call Carla at 663-0179 for an appointment. That is the same day as the Republican and Democratic precinct caucuses, so you can make a life saving donation and then nominate a nation saving presidential candidate in rapid succession. That’s what I call a productive day.
 
The recent Powerball frenzy reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad when the state lottery authorization was on the ballot back in 1989.  Without giving it much thought, I had drifted into thinking that a lottery was harmless fun that would generate significant tax income dedicated to improving Minnesota’s environment. When I offhandedly mentioned my opinion to my dad, he reacted forcefully, giving me a quick five-minute lesson on why lotteries are misguided and immoral.
 
His points were that a lottery is basically a tax on people who can afford it the least. Research shows that Minnesotans spend $82 each on lottery and scratch-off tickets every year. Even more disturbing is a 1999 Duke University study finding that people with an annual income of less than $10,000 average just under $600 annually on lottery games.
 
It’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy of gaining unimaginable wealth through pure luck. The reality is that winning is basically impossible. In 2015, Powerball changed the game to make the winning odds even worse, which drives up jackpots, which in turn drives up ticket sales. You are 246 times more likely to be struck by lightning, but the odds don’t really matter when people imagine themselves as a billionaire. Just to add insult to injury, the majority of people who win large jackpots usually regret it after a few years. It ruins their friendships, family relationships, and often ends in heartbreak and even broken physical and mental health.
 
What about those taxes for the environment and education? That must be a good thing, right? In fact, in the last Powerball cycle, Minnesotans spent 87 million dollars on tickets - 66 million dollars left the state while 21 million was received by the state. In other words, we are burning four dollars for every dollar of tax revenue. 
 
The windfall for the environment and education is a myth. Over time, the lottery revenue just replaces regular tax dollars, so there is no net gain in the budgets for the good causes. The displaced tax revenue is often returned as tax cuts, so at the end of the day, the lottery amounts to the poor subsidizing the rich. Does that sound like smart policy?
 
After hearing all this from my dad back in ’89, I voted no on the constitutional question allowing Minnesota to establish a legal lottery. After the question passed, I resolved to never participate in the lottery. Every time there is a huge jackpot and I have to wait in line at the store as people purchase their tickets, I joke that I expect to win the lottery even though I’ve never bought a ticket. The chances of my winning and the person buying the ticket winning are essentially the same.
 
A fair wage for real work is a much better policy for the country, the state and the beautiful West End.
 
 

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Acorn

A Year in the Wilderness: February 10 - Acorn in the Tent

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences traveling the BWCAW.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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A Year in the Wilderness: February 4 - Slush

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences traveling the BWCAW.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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